Gregor Townsend said the offer to be an assistant coach with the British and Irish Lions “threw him a bit” and he took a couple of days before telling Warren Gatland that he wouldn’t be going to New Zealand.
Townsend will instead start out as Scotland’s head coach on their three match tour to Australia and Fiji having rejected the opportunity to be attack coach on the Lions Tour. It’s now expected that Lions head coach Gatland will fill the post with Wales’ Rob Howley.
The former stand-off and centre for the Lions and Scotland has accepted the head coach post for his country from next June, replacing the departing Vern Cotter. To have taken that post and then requested a further sabbatical from the summer tour to be with the Lions touring party would have raised more than a few eyebrows, even if it was rumoured Scottish Rugby had been prepared to agree.
Townsend himself decided that the timing was wrong, however.
“I was flattered by the approach, but my priority now is Glasgow, and at the end of the season Scotland are going on tour and that will be my priority then,” he said.
“I feel hugely privileged to be given the Scotland coaching job and I will be working with the Scotland players when the Lions tour is going on, so I am looking forward to that.”
He did however take 48 hours to think over Gatland’s offer, he admitted.
“The offer threw me a little bit because I did not expect it,” he said. “Coaches at international level are probably the ones that maybe have the time to go on a Lions tour.
“If we (Glasgow) make to the end of the season the Lions leave right after the PRO12 final so that was what was going through my mind.
“I had a good think. I did not give an immediate answer. I really wanted to reflect on what was involved but quickly realised the Scotland tour to Australia has to be my number one priority at the end of the season.”
Townsend said that the offer made him think about the practicalities of the Scotland post in detail for the first time, and that made him realise he couldn’t accept.
“My first priority in the Scotland job is to work with the players as soon as I can,” he said. “We have an exciting tour to Australia that will be three to four weeks of coaching time with the players that I won’t get much through the year; probably the equivalent of the build up to a World Cup.
“Once I thought in detail about that it became clear that the timing wasn’t going to work for me.”
Townsend wants “as many Scots as possible” to be on the Lions Tour, and isn’t sure about his ambitions in that line in future.
“I don’t know if coaches can have the Lions as an ambition or a goal,” he said. “These things happen every four years and while it was brilliant to be asked, I am looking forward to that Scotland job so much and know how hard it is going to be so as soon as I get started.”
Scotland will play both Italy and Australia in Australia on their tour next summer and a third test against Fiji in Suva, the second time the Scots have visited the Pacific Island in five years.