(CNN) -- New Zealander Warren Gatland was appointed head coach of the British and Irish Lions Tuesday ahead of the rugby team's tour of Australia next year.
The Wales coach, whose confirmation in the role was delayed after breaking both his heels in an accident in April, will start his role with immediate effect -- but has arranged to lead out the Welsh for two final matches against New Zealand and Australia in late 2012.
The 2013 tour will mark the 125th anniversary of the Lions, who are a selection of the best players from the England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The tours only take place once every four years, with the destinations rotating between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The 48-year-old, who has spent over two decades working in British rugby, is only the second man from outside the United Kingdom to be appointed to lead the Lions -- following in the footsteps of compatriot Graham Henry, who led the team in 2001.
"I am really honored to have been asked to take the position of head coach for the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia," Gatland told gathered reporters.
"A Lions tour is unique. It is the ultimate career pinnacle for coaches and players. I want to ensure that we get the tour environment right so that we are hugely competitive and that our fans are proud of their team."
Gatland worked as an assistant coach when the Lions last traveled, which ended with a 2-1 series defeat to South Africa in 2009.
There will once again be three decisive games against Australia, taking place in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, but the tour will incorporate a total of ten matches in all -- taking in games against regional and clubs sides to warm up for the international tests.
Australia, who have won the World Cup on two occasions (in 1991 and 1999), are currently ranked No.2 in the world behind the New Zealand "All Blacks", who won last year's World Cup on home soil.
The Lions have lost their last three tours to Australia and New Zealand and were last successful there back in 1989.
"There is no question it will be one hell of a challenge," Gatland added.
"Playing in the southern hemisphere is one of rugby's hardest challenges."
After winning two Six Nations titles with Wales, as well as steering English club side Wasps to European glory, Gatland's potential role as Lions coach was thrown into doubt when breaking his heels after falling while cleaning windows at his beach house in New Zealand.
He needed reconstructive surgery to repair his right leg, but Lions tour manager Andy Irvine is convinced he will be up to the arduous task.
"It has been no secret that after the initial selection process Warren was our preferred candidate," Irvine said.
"However, his unfortunate accident earlier this year in New Zealand during the selection process did delay the appointment. We naturally had to ensure he would be fit to take up the post. Those concerns have now been addressed."
Gatland's assistant Rob Howley will begin his role as Wales caretaker coach for November's Tests against Argentina and Samoa, ahead of next year's Six Nations campaign.