Wales coach Warren Gatland has signed a four-year deal with Super Rugby side the Chiefs. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

WELLINGTON – Wales coach Warren Gatland has signed a four-year deal with Super Rugby side the Chiefs that includes a release in 2021 to handle the British and Irish Lions, New Zealand Rugby announced Friday.

The former All Blacks hooker has had a stellar coaching career and attracted global interest after announcing he would step down from the Wales post after the World Cup this year. 

New Zealand Rugby's head of professional rugby, Chris Lendrum, described the appointment as “a coup for the Chiefs”.

The announcement came a day after Colin Cooper quit as Chiefs' coach, with a year still to go on his contract, saying he was leaving for the long-term good of New Zealand Super Rugby.

Gatland has made no secret of his desire to return to the Waikato region where he grew up, and earlier this month ruled himself out of becoming England's head coach, declaring his intention to coach in New Zealand.

“The opportunity to come back as head coach of the Chiefs is something that I am really looking forward to,” Gatland said in a statement when the Chief's role was confirmed. 

“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.” 

Gatland, who played 17 matches for the All Blacks, has been the head coach of Wales since 2007, leading them to four Six Nations titles including three grand slams.

He also coached the British and Irish Lions to a series win against the Wallabies in 2013 and a drawn series with the All Blacks four years later.

“Warren is a world-class coach who boasts a proven track record,” Chiefs boss Michael Collins said.  “With a sound rugby background and his desire to return home to New Zealand and be involved in Super Rugby naturally made him a top choice for the role.” 

The package includes a release clause allowing Gatland to miss the 2021 season while he takes charge of the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa.  

Former All Black Justin Marshall said New Zealand Rugby was making a “massive concession” by signing Gatland up as the Chiefs coach and still allowing him to coach the Lions.  

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“The New Zealand Rugby Union have not often given too much leniency when it involves helping the rest of the world. And to an extent that's what Warren Gatland will be doing,” Marshall told Radio Sport.  

“They won't be happy about it, but ... they still see there's more value in having him in New Zealand than not, so they're prepared to let the rope out a little bit. I think that's brilliant.”

The Chiefs were the Super Rugby champions in 2012 and 2013 under Dave Rennie, who is now with the Glasgow Warriors, and made the semi-finals in 2016 and 2017.

For the past two seasons under Cooper they reached the quarter-finals.

Agence France-Presse (AFP)