Warren Gatland will take charge of the Lions for a third time in South Africa on the 2021 tour despite saying he would never coach them again.
Sportsmail understands the departing Wales head coach, 55, has accepted an offer from the touring side to lead them in two years’ time. He will sign officially next week.
Gatland was an assistant coach the last time the Lions went to South Africa a decade ago, before leading the 2013 series win over Australia and the 1-1 draw in New Zealand in 2017.
Warren Gatland will take charge of the British and Irish Lions for their 2021 South Africa tour
Gatland pictured during the British and Irish Lions' tour of New Zealand back in 2017
After that tour Gatland was unequivocal that he would not take the role again.
In his homeland the Kiwi press savaged him, mocked him up as a clown and on the Lions’ return Irish flanker Sean O’Brien criticised him and assistant Rob Howley, which led Gatland to say in late 2017: ‘I’m done and I wouldn’t subject myself to (another tour).
‘I just hated the press and the negativity in New Zealand. When I look back on it now there were a lot of things that were satisfying.
‘It was a great achievement, but it was tough work. The coaches and back-room staff worked their absolute b******s off and then to have someone come out and make a comment like Sean's really, really did hurt.
‘What I’ve learned from my Lions’ experiences is how difficult it is to put some continuity together in terms of people and staff.
‘It's time to let someone else do it, time to let someone else reinvent the wheel.’
The Kiwi takes a selfie with Lions fans during their match against NZ Maori on the 2017 tour
But now Gatland has performed a u-turn he could become the first coach to go unbeaten with the Lions against all three southern hemisphere giants.
Only Sir Ian McGeechan has led the Lions against every opponent; the Scot was head coach in 1989 to Australia, 1993 to New Zealand and 1997 and 2009 to South Africa.
This job will be ideal for Gatland and the Lions. The New Zealander will leave Wales after the World Cup in November, spend some time at home, and then have a full year to scout and prepare for South Africa without distractions.