Rugby: Gatland on prowl for names for Aussie tour

Warren Gatland. Photo / Janna Dixon
Warren Gatland. Photo / Janna Dixon

Warren Gatland is not quite as mobile as he once was. Two dodgy heels, the legacy of a nasty fall in New Zealand last year, have put a brake on the former All Black hooker but he will still leave his peers standing this weekend.

The Lions coach is in the final stages of his selection process for the test series in Australia and as he sees this weekend's European knock-out games as the tipping point, he plans to attend four matches.

Gatland will be at Adams Park for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final between Wasps, who bagged Heineken Cup titles in 2004 and 2007, and Leinster, the reigning European champions and winners of the elite competition three times in the past four years. Neither side is in vintage nick - the Londoners failed to qualify for this season's Heineken while the Dubliners could not escape their pool. But both have Lions candidates.

The obvious possibility from the hosts is England lock Joe Launchbury, who will start on the blind-side flanker.

The positional shift is no bad thing, versatility is a prized asset on Lions tours, but there is a growing school of thought that the trip to Wallaby country might come a bit too soon.

Leinster have experienced Lions candidates coming out of their ears, despite the absences of suspended centre Brian O'Driscoll and injured five-eighths Jonathan Sexton. Fullback Rob Kearney, loose-head prop Cian Healy and flanker Sean O'Brien could use a big performance in front of Gatland, even though all three are likely tourists. For the tight-head prop Mike Ross and the No 8 Jamie Heaslip, nothing short of a brilliant display will do.

Thanks to the ease of Heineken Cup qualification from the four-nation Pro12 league, Leinster are not chasing the Amlin title for any ulterior motive. Wasps, may need to win the competition to secure a place next season. Four successive Premiership defeats have undermined their bid for a top-six domestic finish.

- Independent

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