Warren Gatland is returning to his New Zealand roots after signing a four-year Super Rugby head coach deal with the Chiefs that allows him to fulfil his British and Irish Lions duties.
Decorated coach Gatland, 55, confirmed on Friday he will take charge of the Chiefs from next year through to 2023.
He will be coach for three of those four seasons, skipping the 2021 campaign because of that year’s commitment to lead the Lions on their tour of South Africa.
The announcement comes a day after an unexpected move from veteran Chiefs coach Colin Cooper to stand down two years into a three-year contract.
It opened a space for Gatland, who will end his long tenure as Welsh coach after this year’s World Cup.
Having been largely based in the UK and Ireland during a coaching career that spans 24 years, Gatland is looking forward to reconnecting with his rugby grassroots.
Born and raised in Hamilton, Gatland had a long association with the Chiefs’ provincial base of Waikato, who he represented as a player for nine years and later coached for three seasons.
He was the Chiefs technical advisor in 2006-07 before becoming Wales coach and leading them to four Six Nations crowns, with this year’s triumph being his third grand slam.
After being anointed Lions coach for a third tour, Gatland this month stated he would like to coach at Super Rugby level again.
It was widely suspected the two-time champion Chiefs were the team in his sights.
“I am really excited about the opportunity to come back home,” he said in a statement.
“The Chiefs are well known for the success they’ve had both on and off the field and the really loyal support they have from everyone within the Chiefs region.
“To be part of the Chiefs community with the players, the fans, the sponsors, it’s something I really look forward to.”
NZ Rugby head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum described Gatland’s return as win on many levels as it would attract global attention.
“This is an outstanding appointment and a coup for the Chiefs, for Super Rugby and for the game in New Zealand generally,” he said.
“We are excited to have a coach of Gats’ experience and international standing coming back into our environment.”
Gatland will move quickly to the forefront of future All Blacks coaching contenders.
The last two New Zealand head coaches – Graham Henry and Steve Hansen – were both Welsh national coaches before returning home to take charge of the All Blacks.