Munster team-mates Conor Murray and Damian de Allende. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

'It's something we need to preserve' - Gatland believes Lions need more prep time

The head coach is uncertain whether midweek games should return before and after the first Test.

LIONS HEAD COACH Warren Gatland has expressed his hope that future squads will have greater preparation time before heading on tour.

The Lions lost last night’s series decider to the Springboks in Cape Town in dramatic circumstances and after Gatland congratulated the South Africans for their win, he indicated that the tourists could have used more training time before their trip.

The Lions had a pre-tour training camp for two weeks in Jersey but several of Gatland’s players were missing as they were involved in play-offs for their club sides.

Gatland stressed last night that the Lions is “something we need to preserve” in the game, lauding it as a special and unique part of rugby, but he believes future squads would benefit hugely from more time on the training pitch before heading to Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.

“It’s just about the Lions talking to the clubs and unions about having that adequate preparation time to go on a tour,” said Gatland.

“You are playing away from home, normally with a lot of travel and with a lot of expectation. You are putting a team together in such a short period of time and there’s a lot of expectation to win a series.

“As the Lions, when you’re putting together the best players from the Northern Hemisphere, we get less preparation time than the national teams do when they go on their own tours. 

“It’s a common theme, I’ve been continually saying it. Hopefully in the next six months, they can iron that out and we can get the schedule for four years’ time tidied up in terms of when finals are on so that you can get the whole squad together for a couple of weeks before you go on tour.

“That would make a lot of difference in terms of helping preparation.”

The next Lions tour in 2025 is a visit Australia and will see the welcome return of travelling supporters after this year’s series so badly missed the colour, energy, and volume of crowds.

siya-kolisi-celebrates-winning-with-teammates The Springboks celebrate their victory last night. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

It will be intriguing to see what format that tour takes after the Lions’ campaign was reduced to eight games this year, meaning there were no midweek fixtures before or after the first Test.

It meant a challenge for Gatland and his coaching staff as several players were not involved on the pitch at all in recent weeks, while others came into the Test 23 without recently having played.

“It’s something we’ve talked about and I don’t know the answer to this,” said Gatland.

“In Test match week, you want to be able to have the full preparation time with that Test side.

“There’s been criticism in the past of us bringing in players to protect that Test team in preparation but it is also hard on those players that are not involved in the Tests because they don’t even have rugby for potentially three or four weeks.

“Keeping them part of it… one of the things about the midweek games is it does keep them involved, playing rugby and that’s a positive.

“I don’t know the answer, maybe what Clive Woodward did in 2005 in terms of having two separate teams – is that the right model going forward? Then, do you miss all the stuff in terms of the bonding that goes on? Are you devaluing the jersey a little bit by having an A and a B team?

“I think it is a really good discussion to have in the coming years about what is the right format and how does it work.

“We’ve tried to bring in players in the past to bolster that team in the midweek game before the Test and having everyone still engaged and involved, we’ve also done it when we haven’t done that and that’s been quite challenging for the Test 23 because you’ve guys sitting on the bench on a Wednesday and then sitting on a bench for a match when normally that’d be a really tough training day in a normal Test week.

“I haven’t given you an answer, but it’s really worth debating that as something going forward.”

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