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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019
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All work, no play and Jonny Wilkinson raises tension as Lions land in Ireland

As Sam Warburton called for a bit more craic in the squad, Warren Gatland cut a frustrated figure discussing a potential 38th man.

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

YOU CAN TAKE the Lions out of Britain but you can’t take Jonny Wilkinson off the list of topics for discussion.

That’s how the old saying goes, right?

“How do I say ‘no’ a different way” Said an exasperated Warren Gatland as the third of five questions about the Toulon number 10 was rattled at him from Sky.

The Lions head coach had already issued a one-word answer and Wilkinson too poured cold water on the link after Saturday’s Heineken Cup final win, yet that was no deterrent to talk of a 38th man coming into the squad.

“We didn’t have a finite number.” Gatland said after rolling his eyes towards the high windows of Carton House. “We said 36, 37, 38. The last week we potentially spoke about 38 and everybody has jumped on that.

“For me personally I was trying to keep the number as small as possible so that everyone felt they had an opportunity and I mentioned we were able to settle on 37.

“Anyway, 38 wouldn’t have been another 10. It would have been another loose forward.”

Unless both parties make a remarkable U-turn then only an Injury to Jonathan Sexton, Owen Farrell or possibly Stuart Hogg will force Gatland to pick up the phone to the man who has turned him down already.

Any other business? Oh yeah, welcome to Ireland.

Gatland arrives on these shores fully settled into the role of Lions coach. Many of his playing party have had less time to adapt to their new badge of honour. But with what the Kiwi calls ‘the two Ls’ Leinster and Leicester (and Ulster’s Tommy Bowe) yet to form the final parts of the jigsaw, the squad has had a concentrated feel to it with every last man able to play a full part in training.

Overload

“It’s going to be tough for the players that haven’t been involved,” Gatland warned.

“We had a great week last week and the lads trained exceptionally well. I don’t think we’re too far from being able to put things together.”

“We haven’t put anything back to the players in terms of trying to overload them. We’ve allowed them complete freedom in their time with their clubs to concentrate on the finals when they come in next week they’re going to have to learn pretty quickly.”

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Gatland’s captain for country and countries amalgamated, Sam Warburton reiterated that “quite a lot of organisational work and a lot of conditioning work” had been done.

His point was with a view to crossing that possible excuse off the list when facing the Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1 June. However, if the BaaBaas bring anything to rugby then it is near-instantaneous team unity. And Warburton suggested that this Lions squad could be a little on the shy side.

Or perhaps the 24-year-old has just watched Living with the Lions once too often.

“Training is going really smoothly. Speaking to some of the players it’s a bit quieter maybe than past tours – Just when it comes to the characters, I guess, that people were looking out for on the DVD.

“It’s been great. It’s been a very hard working group. It’s quite a young squad in general, but very enjoyable. We’re looking forward to getting back together after having a weekend off.”

You sense there will be no time off for the words ‘Jonny’ or ‘Wilkinson’ until the tour is done and dusted.

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Sean Farrell

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