Rugby: Lions in danger of rugby extinction warns Gatland

Warren Gatland saw his Wales side beaten 3-0 by the All Blacks earlier this year. Photo / Brett Phibbs - NZ Herald.
Warren Gatland saw his Wales side beaten 3-0 by the All Blacks earlier this year. Photo / Brett Phibbs - NZ Herald.

The Lions are in danger of rugby extinction warns their coach Warren Gatland.

Gatland told United Kingdom media that he fears the British and Irish Lions could "die as an entity" if a proposal to cut the number of matches they play from 10 to five on future tours goes through.

Eight months out from the eargerly-awaited tour to New Zealand for which he will be the coach, Gatland's thoughts are already racing beyond to 2021 because rugby's administrators are negotiating over the shape of the international calendar from 2019 onwards.

"I would hate to see the Lions go in for five matches," he told reporters. "You would lose the mystique of what the Lions are all about."

If anything, Gatland believes the Lions' tours should be longer, to give the team more time to prepare.

They will play the first match of their 2017 tour on 3 June, only one week after the Premiership and Pro12 finals, which take place on Saturday 27 May. Gatland expects about "a third to a half" of his squad will be involved in one or other of the two matches. Those players will fly out to New Zealand on Monday and arrive on Wednesday, three days before the opening game against the Provincial Union XV.

Gatland made a similar recommendation in his report on the Lions' successful 2013 tour to Australia, which he felt could be summed up in three words: "preparation, preparation, preparation".

It is too late to change the 2017 schedule but for 2021 the New Zealander wants the clubs and competitions to agree to structure the season so the Lions have an extra week to get ready, mainly to give the team more time to bond before practice matches.

"The challenge is to get everyone on the same page as quickly as I can, and another week or two would be ideal," Gatland said.

The harder those warm-up games are before the Test series starts, the happier he will be. "If I look back on the experience of the last two tours, there were too many games in Australia and South Africa that were too easy. There is no point in the Lions winning by 50 points," he said.

"If we go down to the wire in some tough games, if we get beaten while we're trying some combinations, that's fine, because it is all about winning the Test series, the more battle-hardened we are, the better prepared we are going to be."

Gatland, on sabbatical from the job as the Wales coach, also thinks a shorter tour would have an impact on the number of fans who would travel across the world in order to watch the Lions play.

"If you were playing five matches, two warm-ups and three Tests, I don't think there would be the same interest, and I don't think most of the tour packages would be sold out," he said.

He believes the long lead-up to the first Test, and the tradition of playing midweek matches around the country, are part of the appeal and he added it is the large number of travelling fans that make the Lions so popular in the southern hemisphere.

"Watch All Blacks games at Eden Park and 95% of the fans are All Blacks supporters," Gatland said. "That's fine but they're very excited about going to a ground where there's red everywhere.

"In the southern hemisphere they never get to experience what we get in the Six Nations, where 40% or more of the crowd are away fans, and that's what makes the atmosphere."

He hopes the game's "stakeholders thrash out what's best, because I would hate to see the Lions die as an entity and not have an opportunity to prepare properly".

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 20 Feb 2017 19:49:44 Processing Time: 565ms