LONDON Warren Gatland will attempt to lead the British and Irish Lions to a first series victory over the All Blacks in 46 years next summer after being confirmed as head coach on Wednesday.
Gatland, officially named at a news conference in Edinburgh after being widely-tipped for the post, will fly to his native New Zealand on Thursday to begin the preparations for the Lions' gruelling 10-match schedule.
"It's a huge honour and when you get offered the biggest job in world rugby against the best opposition in the world, when you get that sort of challenge it would be difficult to walk away from that," Gatland said.
"I'm incredibly excited, I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we had the ability and the players to go there and win."
Wales head coach Gatland led the Lions to victory in Australia four years ago and was also assistant coach in 2009 when they were beaten by South Africa.
Gatland will relinquish his Wales responsibilities for a year, with assistant Rob Howley again taking over, and said he would begin work immediately on putting together a management team for the tour.
He said there would be room for fresh faces and fresh ideas.
"There are some outstanding coaches who could potentially be involved and we'll look to announce them in December," Gatland, who has won the Six Nations three times with Wales, said.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how they and the players get on domestically, in Europe and internationally."
The Lions have won only one of their 11 series against the All Blacks, in 1971, and were hammered on the last visit in 2005 when England's World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward was at the helm.
New Zealand have won the last two World Cups and have a formidable depth of talent at their disposal but Gatland said it was by no means "mission impossible".
"If there are people who feel like that as players then put their hands up now and don't get on the plane because we have to go there with belief that we can be successful down there.
"There is no bigger challenge and we are all really excited about the next 10 months."
The daunting nature of the tour was underlined this week when New Zealand said All Black players would be available for three of the Lions' warmup matches against Super Rugby sides, with the tourists given a tiny window to prepare after the end of the European season.
The Lions face Super Rugby teams the Blues, Crusaders and the Highlanders within six days at the start of the tour. They face a provincial selection to open the 10-match itinerary on June 3.
Opposition will also be provided by the Maori All Blacks and Chiefs before the first of the three tests on June 24 in Auckland. The second test is on July 1 in Wellington with the finale in Auckland on July 8.
3 June - Provincial union team (Toll Stadium, Whangarei)
7 June - Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)
10 June - Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)
13 June - Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
17 June - Maori (International Stadium, Rotorua)
20 June - Chiefs (Waikato Stadium, Hamilton)
24 June - New Zealand (First Test, Eden Park, Auckland)
27 June - Hurricanes (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
1 July - New Zealand (Second Test, Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
8 July - New Zealand (Third Test, Eden Park, Auckland).
(This version of the story corrects 16th para, removes reference to semi-finallists)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Mitch Phillips)