Wales contract allows Gatland to coach 2013 Lions

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Warren Gatland will be free to coach the British and Irish Lions on their 2013 tour of Australia after it emerged his new Wales contract contains a timely five-month break clause.

Gatland plans to appoint a junior coaching team to lead Wales on their tour to Japan that summer after the Welsh Rugby Union agreed he could take a sabbatical.

The former All Blacks hooker insisted the Lions did not feature in negotiations over his four-year deal and that he just wanted a chance to spend some time back in New Zealand. But Gatland is considered to be one of the leading candidates to take charge of the Lions in 2013 – and he yesterday refused to rule out the possibility. "Part of my contract negotiations included being able to spend some time back in New Zealand," said Gatland, the Lions forwards coach during their epic 2009 Test series defeat in South Africa. "Wales have agreed that for 2013, while the Lions are touring and Wales play Japan, I could appoint some younger coaches, which would enable me to spend four or five months back in New Zealand.

"For a Lions team to be successful is incredibly hard. It was a fantastic experience and an honour and a privilege to be involved with the players. To do it again? We'll just have to see."

The fact Gatland is technically available in the summer of 2013 opens the door for him to be considered for the Lions job, though there remain further hurdles to clear. The tour manager, Andy Irvine, said earlier this week it was unlikely any of the home nations coaches would be considered unless they could secure at least partial release from the 2013 Six Nations.