2013 British and Irish Lions
Gatland calls for strong Test warm-ups
February 8, 2013
Warren Gatland is hoping to use his experiences from the 2009 Lions tour to lead his side to victory
Lions coach Warren Gatland has called on the Australian Rugby Union to provide the stiffest possible opposition for the tourists ahead of the three-Test series.
The Lions take on the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1, before playing five matches in Australia ahead of the first Test in Brisbane on June 22. On past tours the host union has often rested their Test players from the provincial matches, notably on the 2009 tour to South Africa when the tourists won their six warm-up matches in impressive style, but found themselves undercooked for the first Test and slumped to a 26-21 loss.
It something that Gatland hopes to avoid this year, most notably against Super Rugby sides, the Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies and Western Force.
"Ideally we'll be playing against the strongest possible opposition," Gatland said, "but what we learned from South Africa in 2009 in the lead-up to the first Test, is to be mindful that if they're not at full-strength, don't get carried away. I think we got caught a bit in the first Test that things were going ok and then the scrum came under a bit of pressure, so we're just mindful of that.
"The five warm-up games before the first Test are going to be very, very important for us. To see the structures, the patterns that the team plays right and that when we arrive in Brisbane for that first Test that everything is up and running. Coming away with a Test series victory is going to be important for us and important for the Lions and hopefully important for the future of the game as well."
Gatland was an assistant coach on the 2009 tour to South Africa, as were Rob Howley and Graham Rowntree, whom Gatland has included as part of his coaching team and he is keen to use their collective experience from 2009 to secure the Lions' first Test-series win since the 1997 tour to South Africa.
One new face is Andy Farrell, who is included as defence coach and the Kiwi is hopeful that the former Great Britain rugby league captain can harness his experiences of playing in Australia in the 13-man code, not least when he helped Wigan to a Club World Championship win away to Brisbane Broncos in 1994.
Gatland and his coaching team want to avoid the msitakes of the 2009 tour © Getty Images
"What we've learned from 2009 is to have some kind of continuity with the management team because you've got so little time in terms of preparation," Gatland said. "Basically we assemble on Sunday for a farewell dinner and then fly to Hong Kong on the Monday which is the first time the squad is going to be together and Graham Rowntree and Rob Howley are two people from 2009, who I know and respect.
"Then we've brought someone new in like Andy Farrell, who gives us another dimension having come from rugby league. He understands the mindset of the Australians having played against them a number of times."
One thing that Gatland is unlikely to opt for is multiple captains, one for the tour and one for the Test. In recent years the captain has been the first name on the Test team-sheet and it is a policy that Gatland expects to continue with in Australia.
"Various things have been discussed of two or three tour captains, about a possible tour captain who may not play in the Test side," he said. "Ideally you want someone there who will earn and hold the respect of the whole side and play in the Test matches."
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