Gatland the invisible coach

Warren Gatland will keep his distance from Wales as they attempt to end a seven-match losing streak and retain the Six Nations title while he attends to his duties as this year's British & Irish Lions head coach

An agreement between the home unions allows Gatland to watch England, Ireland and Scotland training during the tournament – checking the form of possible Lions for this summer's tour to Australia – on the understanding he cuts his ties with Wales for the duration.

Rob Howley, the acting Wales head coach in Gatland's absence, said there would be "no calls, no texts" between him and the New Zealander, who was in charge for the Grand Slams of 2008 and 2012.

Howley admitted he and the other Wales assistant coaches were "compromised" in the autumn when Gatland adopted a half-and-half approach, taking time out to deal with Lions business while Wales lost to Argentina and Samoa before stepping back in for the defeats by New Zealand and Australia.

Gatland will make one visit to the Wales squad, and the other unions picked their time with him carefully. England, whose assistant coaches, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, will also be on the Lions tour, will see Gatland for a day in the first fallow week of the Six Nations, 10 days before France visit Twickenham. "Warren will talk to the England coaches about players," said Farrell. "He can get an insight from how they are around each other in training."

Ireland will meet their one-time coach early in the Championship's final week in March, before they meet Italy, while the interim Scotland coach, Scott Johnson, has yet to fix a date. The Australian, who coached Wales before Gatland's spell in charge, said: "If he wanted to come in seven days a week, I'd say bring it in, mate, no issues. We want him [Gatland] to do well and I want my players to be seen."

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