Gatland wants earlier finals to give Lions more time to prepare
WARREN Gatland has called for the Lions to have more time to prepare for tours, even if it means bringing forward domestic finals by one week.
The current tour agreement with the three major southern hemisphere unions ends after the summer tour to New Zealand and the four home unions are considering shortening future trips from 10 to eight matches. Gatland will have three days to get his side ready for the first game in New Zealand in June. They leave London on the Monday following the Premiership and Guinness PRO12 finals, arrive in Auckland on the Wednesday and will play that Saturday, against the Provincial Barbarians.
“I said in my report that it comes down to three words: preparation, preparation, preparation,” the head coach said. “There are a number of stakeholders involved and they have to understand the future of the Lions and that things should be done properly.
“Last time we had a week in Hong Kong and arrived in Australia with five days to spare, which feels a lifetime compared to arriving on the Wednesday with the first game that Saturday. Everyone wants more time but what would be reasonable would be to have a week together with the squad in the UK or Ireland before you travel and arrive seven days before your first game.
“And the ideal scenario would be not playing a match in the week of the first Test. I hope the Lions are able to negotiate with the stakeholders, the unions and the clubs. It might mean bringing Europe and the finals forward a week so we can have more warm-up time. It is a challenge to bring players from four countries together and gel them quickly, which is why you need both preparation time and five warm-up matches.”
Gatland believes the thousands of Lions supporters travelling will make a difference. “Their supporters are used to making up 90pc of the crowd in New Zealand, but the split could be near 50-50 in this series,” he said.
As a New Zealander, Gatland is expecting some hostile media attention but does not expect the two management camps to indulge in an insult war. “There will no doubt be some comments at some stage, but we want our rugby to do the talking, not stoop to personal jibes,” he said. “The game is bigger than that and it should be about two quality teams on the field.”
Andy Farrell is a rarity among European coaches, having been part of two victories over the All Blacks. The dual international is in charge of the Lions’ defence this summer after plotting the downfall of New Zealand with England in 2012 and Ireland four years later.
The Lions have stressed the significance of Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks last November, New Zealand’s first and only defeat since winning the 2015 World Cup, saying the confidence and knowledge gained from it by the Irish contingent in the squad will be passed on to the rest.
Warren Gatland is seeking a week to prepare