Warren Gatland has said the decision not to include his Wales colleague Shaun Edwards among the coaches for next summer's British and Irish Lions tour was the "most difficult" of his career. Edwards has been overlooked in favour of his former Wigan team-mate Andy Farrell, with Rob Howley and Graham Rowntree also confirmed as Gatland's assistants.
Edwards, a Guardian columnist, had made no secret of his desire to tour but Gatland has chosen to freshen up the coaching panel which narrowly lost the 2009 series in South Africa.
"Andy comes highly recommended but it wasn't the easiest decision in the world," said Gatland, who has enjoyed a fruitful decade-long partnership with Edwards for both Wasps and Wales.
"It was pretty agonising. Shaun's a world-class coach who has been very successful but, from a selfish point of view, this was an opportunity to work with someone fresh. I'm going to be judged on this in seven months' time but it's a profession and a business. Sometimes you have to make those hard calls."
Neither Gatland nor Howley attempted to pretend Edwards had taken his omission with a shrug. "He appreciated my call but he was very, very disappointed," admitted Gatland. "It was only really in the last week that the decision was clarified in my mind." England's victory over New Zealand this month clearly did Farrell's cause no harm.
Farrell, like Edwards, was one of the finest rugby league players of his generation and is now an increasingly well-regarded coach. He joined the England set-up only a year ago from Saracens but close colleagues believe he is more than qualified to serve the Lions. "He brings an unrivalled energy and passion to his work on and off the field," said Rowntree, about to embark on his second Lions tour as a coach. "He's not a flowery coach – he doesn't beat around the bush. I think the lads buy into that."
Farrell said he had not yet heard from Edwards but played down any suggestion of a rift between the two Wigan legends. "Me and Shaun are good friends and we'll speak. He was the first to text me after the New Zealand game to offer his congratulations." The former Great Britain captain hopes to emulate players such as Scott Gibbs, Scott Quinnell, John Bentley and Alan Tait, cross-code players who had prominent roles in the Lions' last victorious series in 1997.
Edwards will serve under Robin McBryde on Wales's summer tour to Japan while Gatland and Howley attempt to steer the Lions to a first series victory for 16 years. Howley says the touring side will respect the Wallabies but believes their opponents are beatable. "We're very mindful of the talent they've got but we feel we've got the talent to match it."
Rowntree said the Lions would be hugely motivated by their narrow failures in 2001 and 2009. "It's a real driving force. This is the last chance we've got of doing it with this group of players. We have to deliver."
Lions officials believe the 10-match, six-week tour will attract as many as 30,000 travelling supporters. The playing squad for the three-Test series will be confirmed in late April, with Brian O'Driscoll now favourite to be named as captain.
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