LONDON (Reuters) - Wales coach Warren Gatland was named on Tuesday coach of the British and Irish Lions for next year's tour to Australia.

The New Zealander had been widely tipped for the role, although his involvement was threatened when he fractured both heels in a freak accident while on holiday back in his homeland following Wales' Six Nations grand slam this year.

Having shrugged off his health concerns, the 48-year-old, who was an assistant to Ian McGeechan during the 2009 tour to South Africa, has been handed the task of guiding the Lions to their first series win in 16 years.

Gatland will be the second foreign coach to lead the Lions, containing players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, after his compatriot Graham Henry led them to a 2-1 series defeat by Australia in 2001.

Following a one-off match against the Barbarians on June 1 in Hong Kong, the Lions will play nine games during the month-long tour of Australia, including tests in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

(Reporting by Josh Reich, editing by Ed Osmond)