Wellington (AFP) - Warren Gatland said Friday he would be prepared to coach the Waikato Chiefs for free next year if COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the British and Irish Lions' tour to South Africa.
Lions officials insist the eight-match tour in July-August 2021 will go ahead but South Africa is struggling to contain coronavirus, with more than 520,000 cases making it Africa's hardest-hit nation.
Asked what he would do if it was cancelled, Gatland said he would prefer to continue working with the Chiefs, rather than taking a break.
The only issue is that the Super Rugby side have already lined up Clayton McMillan as a temporary replacement, although Gatland said the problem could be overcome.
"It's something we haven't talked about. I'd have to do it for free, probably, I won't get paid," Gatland told the stuff.co.nz news website.
The former Wales coach, who has already guided the Lions to a series win in Australia in 2013 and a drawn series in New Zealand in 2017, may feel he owes the Chiefs, who are winless after seven rounds in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
"I won't deny that we're disappointed," he said.
"It's all about results, and we haven't achieved those results."
Gatland acknowledged the Chiefs' dire form had put pressure on skipper Sam Cane, with critics questioning the wisdom of appointing the loose forward as the All Blacks' new captain.
"I do feel for him a little bit, we haven't made it easy for him in terms of his All Blacks role, and that makes it a bit tougher," he said.
"But he's been absolutely outstanding for us, and he's just fronted up and put his body on the line week after week. So that's all we can ask him to do."
The Chiefs will play Wellington Hurricanes in the New Zealand capital on Saturday.