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'Having our wives and partners here, the kids running around, it's great'

The Lions are missing their loved ones but the Springboks have brought families into their bubble.

Erasmus has welcomed players' families and partners into the Boks' bubble.
Erasmus has welcomed players' families and partners into the Boks' bubble.
Image: Ashley Western

ONE OF WARREN Gatland’s core philosophies as a coach – and indeed one of his key strengths – is that “family comes first.”

He has always made a big effort to ensure players’ families are included and involved, whether that’s been with Wales or the Lions. Gatland appreciates what motivates people and what keeps them happy.

He has always been understanding of family situations, allowing players time and space to resolve anything that crops up while they’re in camp. He appreciates that family is more important than their jobs as professional athletes.

This tour of South Arica is very different given that players’ families haven’t been able to travel out to support them, but Gatland did organise for partners and kids to send video messages on Father’s Day while the Lions were training in Jersey last month. It’s something he did in New Zealand four years ago too, and emotions were high in the team room in Jersey as Gatland and the Lions staff surprised their players.

Sadly, the Lions players have been limited to online interaction with their families ever since. Many of the squad haven’t seen them in person for six weeks now, while Josh Adams had to watch the birth of his and his fiancée’s first child on Zoom last week.

So while everyone is thrilled that the Test series is going ahead this weekend and players will insist that they’re just privileged to be on tour, there is an obvious strain involved.

Meanwhile, the Springboks camp has integrated players’ wives, partners, and kids in Cape Town, bringing them into the bubble. It’s a typical Rassie Erasmus move to ensure that his players are happy and at ease even in these strange times.

warren-gatland-with-his-son-bryn-gatland Warren Gatland with his son, Bryn, during the 2017 Lions tour. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It certainly helps the players with staying sane in their hotel at a time when their contact with the outside world is essentially non-existent due to worries about another Covid-19 outbreak.

“Having our wives and partners here, the kids running around, a lot of people would see that as a distraction but for us it’s great,” said out-half Handré Pollard today.

“It just gets our heads away from the game a bit.

“But let’s be honest, for the next three weeks we’re going to be locked in mentally focusing on the task at hand and you have no fears about staying sane. You just put all your energy into what we want to achieve. Having the families here really helps a lot.”

The Lions have been doing their best to keep themselves occupied, of course. S&C coach Huw Bennett is organising a quiz for the squad tomorrow evening, while some players will use Wednesday’s down day to play golf at their luxury resort near Cape Town.

They have another three weeks before they get back to their families. Some will welcome the embrace of their loved ones even more than others.

Out-half Dan Biggar’s mother passed away in May after an illness and he is hoping to do her proud in South Africa.

“It has been a challenging couple of weeks before the tour,” said Biggar today. “I’ve tried to focus everything on this week and putting myself in the best possible shape to be selected for Saturday.

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dan-biggar-during-the-warm-up Lions out-half Dan Biggar. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“If it happens, then brilliant. If it doesn’t, you have to dust yourself down and go again.  It’ll be very emotional either way – that she’s not around to watch if the selection goes the right way and, from the other side, if the selection doesn’t go the right way, you’ve got one less person who is close to you to lean on.

“It’ll be satisfying if I get it done in terms of selection. It’s been a difficult few months. I’m focusing now on hopefully the next few weeks being as successful as possible to make it worthwhile.”

Biggar says the tour has been a distraction and focus for him and while he’s looking forward to seeing his family back home, there is a job to be done first.

“I just hope it’s worthwhile, not just for me but everyone else who is going through tough times away from home and missing families as well.

“For us to get off to a good start on Saturday and then build on that as the weeks go on would be worthwhile for being away for so long in such a tough situation.”

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Murray Kinsella

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