Joseph Pearson
15:18, Jun 28 2019

The Chiefs went above and beyond to bring Warren Gatland home but CEO Michael Collins admitted the ink on his contract was "not yet dry" after revealing his appointment as coach on a four-year deal was unintentionally leaked.

Gatland was on Friday announced as Colin Cooper's replacement for 2020 and beyond, less than 24 hours after the Chiefs confirmed that Cooper was stepping down after agreeing by mutual consent to not see out the final season of his three-year contract.

Collins on Thursday was coy when asked whether the Chiefs had a new coach lined up but Stuff understood on Friday morning that Gatland had signed a contract for 2020, with a break in 2021 to coach the British and Irish Lions in South Africa, before then returning home for Super Rugby in 2022 and 2023.

Hours later, Collins was fronting a press conference at Chiefs HQ in Hamilton and he expressed his delight at landing Gatland, a "massive coup", agreeing he was the world's best coach.

The Chiefs boss said negotiations with Gatland had been straightforward and taken only two to three weeks to finalise, but he conceded that a compromise had been made after Gatland was confirmed as Lions coach less than three weeks ago.

The former All Blacks and Waikato hooker's homecoming, after a successful 12-year stint coaching Wales and the Lions, has long been anticipated but not for another few years at least.

Collins said the Chiefs first approached the 55-year-old, who has often spoken publicly of his desire to coach in New Zealand again, around the time of his unveiling as Lions coach for a third time on June 12.

"From our perspective, we always knew Warren had signed with the Lions when we were talking to him," Collins said.
"For New Zealand Rugby, while it might not be perfect for them, they were aware that there was a concession that had to be made."

In a statement, Gatland said: "​I am really excited about the opportunity to come back home. The opportunity to come back as head coach of the Chiefs is something that I am really looking forward to".

The timing of Gatland's appointment seemed unusual after Cooper officially quit on Thursday.

However, Collins said the departing Chiefs coach, who led the team to quarter-final appearances in his two seasons in charge, had already agreed to step aside before Gatland became available.

"We had known for a long time that Colin wasn't going to coach past the end of the three-year contract. We had a desire to get back in sync with the World Cup cycle. Then, Colin and I had a conversation months ago and agreed he wasn't going to continue [in 2020].

"The timing of Colin's announcement yesterday and Warren's announcement being leaked today is not ideal.

"The ink on Warren's contract is not yet dry. But we wanted to get the news out to avoid all the speculation."

Collins admitted he wasn't yet sure who would be coach in Gatland's absence in 2021.

The former Chiefs prop only arrived back from the UK late on Wednesday night after meeting with the former Waikato coach to agree terms.

He said they had to step outside the normal recruitment process that takes places when New Zealand's franchises hire coaches.

"Warren is clearly a world class coach and we've been in contact directly with Warren. We haven't advertised this position. We think he's of a calibre that we didn't need to.

"Once we knew he was available, he's been the only coach we've been negotiating with."

Collins said New Zealand Rugby had been accommodating in assisting the Chiefs with negotiations.

Gatland will start in December, a month after finishing with Wales at this year's World Cup in Japan, ushering in a new era for the Chiefs.

Warren Gatland's coaching career
Galwegians RFC: 1989-94
Thames Valley (assistant): 1994-96
Connacht: 1996-98
Ireland: 1998-2001
London Wasps: 2002-05
Waikato: 2005-07
Chiefs (technical advisor): 2006-07
Wales: 2007-19
Lions: 2009 (assistant), 2013, 2017, 2021
Record with Lions in test series
2009: lost 2-1 v South Africa
2013: won 2-1 v Australia
2017: drew 1-1 v New Zealand