The edition, published today, carries an extensive feature interview with Gatland, head coach for the previous two British & Irish Lions Tours and in charge for next year’s Tour to South Africa.
To be named rugby’s greatest coach (to have coached men’s international XVs level since 1960 was the criteria) is impressive recognition and Gatland received the accolade gratefully while also pointing out a poll in a month’s time could be very different: “I might not even make the quarter-final.”
To determine the winner Rugby World conducted 31 ‘brackets’ polls over Twitter, with a healthy dose of Lions nous in the final four of Jim Telfer, Ian McGeechan and Graham Henry.
Gatland of course has a long and storied history as a coach, from Connacht in 1996 to the Chiefs in the present day – sandwiching a golden period with Wasps, multiple Grand Slams with Wales and back-to-back Lions Tours, winning in Australia in 2013 and drawing in New Zealand.
Ever-ready to provide in-depth insight, the 56-year-old spoke to Rugby World at length about forming his coaching principles in those earlier days with Connacht and subsequently Ireland: “I look back on Munster and I think a lot of the values I have now came from watching them. Munster didn’t always have the best players but they had great character.
“When their guys put that jersey on, it really meant something to them. It’s not always the most talented players you need, it’s the guys with the most heart. That’s been a big part of it for me.
“I’d rather pick a team of good blokes who would die for each other than superstars with egos who are just in it for themselves.”
Excitement for the 2021 Lions Tour to South Africa is already palpable, the foundations laid by the dramatically-concluded Tour to New Zealand in 2017 and stoked up ever higher with the Siya Kolisi-led Springboks surging to the World Cup crown in Japan.
Lions selection discussions are never far away in rugby circles, and Gatland provided a new update while keeping his cards close to his chest: “I have no idea who the captain will be either. It’s about picking the squad and then saying who do we think will be captain material. Ideally, it’s somebody who has come from a team that’s been pretty successful. The next question is if we were picking the Test team now, is there a good chance this person would make that Test team?”
Gatland has of course seen and done most things in the sport, and is no doubt relishing another trip to rugby-mad South Africa, where he was Ian McGeechan’s assistant in 2009 for that fiercely-combated series defeat.
It seems he was never really going to miss out on this one: “You get the buzz for it again. I wouldn’t have forgiven myself had I turned it down. I feel hugely privileged to have the opportunity again. The Lions concept is special and it’s a massive fight to preserve it…It’s just very, very special.”