MELBOURNE : Warren Gatland will return to the Waikato Chiefs as director of rugby instead of head coach for the 2022 season with the Super Rugby side retaining his former assistant Clayton McMillan in the role after turning around the New Zealanders' fortunes.
Gatland joined the Chiefs as head coach in 2020 on a four-year deal with a sabbatical clause allowing him to coach the British and Irish Lions through their recent 2-1 series loss in South Africa.
He was due to return as Chiefs' head coach for the 2022 Super Rugby season but will now take on a Director of Rugby role.
"The Chiefs' new coaching structure will get the best out of two quality coaches and that’s a great result for the club, its players and its fans," New Zealand Rugby's high performance boss Chris Lendrum said in a Chiefs release.
"Clayton has impressed through his work with the Chiefs last year and with the Māori All Blacks and Warren’s international experience will be a valuable asset in helping him continue his development."
Gatland's first season at the Chiefs was disastrous, with the team losing all eight matches in New Zealand's inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa competition in 2020.
With Gatland off to the Lions, McMillan stepped in as interim head coach and guided the Chiefs to five successive wins before losing the Aotearoa final to Canterbury Crusaders in May.
"No one was prouder than I was with the gains made by the Chiefs during 2021," Gatland said.
"I am excited at the prospect of working with Clayton and the other coaches to build on those foundations as we strive for success in the new Super Rugby Pacific in 2022."
The Chiefs offered few details of how the coaching setup would work but suggested Gatland's job would be as a high performance boss and "mentor" to McMillan and his staff, who would ultimately be responsible for matchday performance.
Chiefs CEO Mike Collins said it would be similar to the setup when the team won back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013, when head coach Dave Rennie, now the Wallabies boss, had former All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith in a supporting role.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)