Lions feel they would have won series with an extra week's prep

Tour manager John Spencer says the signs for the future are positive.

British and Irish Lions manager John Spencer.
British and Irish Lions manager John Spencer.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Murray Kinsella reports from New Zealand

WITH THE 2017 tour done and dusted, ending in an unsatisfying drawn series, thoughts are already turning towards the next Lions trip, a visit to South Africa in 2021.

Warren Gatland has admitted he could be tempted by taking on a third tour as head coach, while several of the stars of this summer’s adventure in New Zealand will be back in four years’ time.

But as important as the possible personnel will be the efforts made to give the Lions more preparation time – even if it’s just another week.

Gatland’s achievements in New Zealand are all the more impressive when one considers that the likes of key men Conor Murray and Jonathan Davies only joined the touring party a day before they flew out of London at the end of May.

The Lions then played their first game just three days after arriving on Kiwi soil, understandably struggling to perform against the Provincial Barbarians.

Lions tour manager believes that had the Lions had just one extra week’s preparation together before or after reaching New Zealand, they would have beaten the All Blacks in the Test series.

“My honest opinion is yes,” said Spencer in Auckland on Sunday. “The preparation is extremely important.”

Encouragingly, Spencer is optimistic about a better schedule being secured for the Lions in the near future.

Premiership Rugby Limited will provide strong opposition, having indicated that they would rather see Lions tours shortened in favour of the club season, but Spencer believes the famous touring side are on the right track.

“I think we’re making very positive steps already to talk about and rectify that situation,” said Spencer, who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 1971.

“I’ve received incredible cooperation from the board on that, and there are four of us who are ex-Lions there who know about the intensity and preparation.

“What I would say is that gold medals are won on the training pitch a long time before they are won on the match pitch.

“The board are very receptive to our suggestions, from myself and the last two tour managers. I think that everyone has now discussed it and we’ve agreed we need to sit down, talk about it, and talk about it in a friendly and positive way.

“There are good signs that there’s a positive way forward.”

While more preparation time would almost certainly lead to improved performances from the Lions, one other contentious issue for the board to consider before the next tour was the decision to call-up six extra players to sit on the bench for the final two midweek games in New Zealand.

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Those call-ups for Gareth Davies, Finn Russell, Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis and Allan Dell – based on their geographical proximity – caused uproar at the time, and then again when Gatland refused to use them off the bench late on in the 31-31 draw with the Hurricanes.

Spencer did not indicate whether the debacle will be allowed to happen again on future tours, instead pointing out that those players gained from the experience.

“I think that’s probably a decision for the coaches,” said Spencer. ”I understand the problems that it could cause, and we discussed those before the team left for New Zealand.

“We were always concerned that the 23 he [Gatland] picked for the first Test and beyond, that they need to be protected. You can’t play two matches in the same week including the Test.

“The simplest thing to do was to bring the players to travel the least distance. There was no intention to throw Lions jerseys away like confetti, the boys who came knew exactly what the score was.

“I think they’ll be better players because of the experience. The coaches are the experts, they know better.”

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Murray Kinsella

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