'A third of Lions squad is up for grabs'
March 13, 2013
The Lions will kick off their tour in Hong Kong on June 1 © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions Captaincy Odds
British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says there is "still around a third of the squad up for grabs" and that England's Six Nations decider against Wales on Saturday could go a long way to helping him decide whether some players should tour or not.
Wales know that if they beat England by eight points, or seven if they manage to repel Stuart Lancaster' team's attack and keep them to tries less than what they muster, then they will lift the Six Nations title for the second time in two years. For England, if they can come away from Cardiff with the win then they will have their first Grand Slam since 2003.
Gatland, who was granted a sabbatical from the Welsh Rugby Union to focus on his duties as Lions coach, will be an interested spectator come Saturday and he is relishing the chance to see how certain players cope in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium.
And while all eyes will be on Cardiff, Gatland will also be paying close attention to how Scotland and Ireland get on. "For me, as Lions coach, it is really exciting this weekend that it has come down to a 'final'," Gatland told the Telegraph. "It is a situation that you want to see players in, under pressure, and it is what we are going to face in Australia.
"It is not a 'trial' game but it is a trial game, that's how it has worked out. You are not going to select the Lions [squad] just on Wales v England but for some players in some positions there are key match-ups that could weigh up the decision one way or another. Just down to one game.
"So there shouldn't be any lack of motivation. I know if I was playing I would be saying I would be thinking: 'I have a chance to get myself on the plane. I am not leaving anything in the tank.'
"I couldn't have asked for anything more than that but that's not forgetting that Scotland and Ireland have big games as well. There is a lot at stake for players in those two teams to perform in the last weekend too."
Central to Saturday's battle will be the match-up between Sam Warburton and Chris Robshaw with both in the frame to lead the Lions come the summer. Gatland is set to unveil his choice of Lions skipper on April 30 and he claims that they have narrowed it down to a handful of potential candidates.
"I think there are three or four individuals that people have been consistently been talking about and again I think this weekend may answer one or two of those questions," Gatland added. "We will pick the squad first and then look at a captain. When you are looking at a captain and leadership, there are a number of things in terms of how the player sets an example on and off the field in terms of discipline but also how he carries himself and the respect he earns from his fellow team-mates."
© Getty Images
Gatland claims that "around a third of the squad" is up for grabs and says that any team who wins the Grand Slam should expect to have a large representation in the touring party. Gatland has previously been quoted as saying that he was wary of picking too many English players due to the media attention they draw, a claim he later denied, but he is adamant that he is impressed with the squad's mentality.
"There is a real air of humility around that team at the moment and that's good for English rugby and the game," he said. "Stuart and the other coaches have done a really good job in terms of keeping them grounded and not getting too far ahead of themselves. It is hard to do that sometimes. That is why there are a lot of things about this weekend that you may get a few answers on some positional match-ups. It is perfect for me to see how players from both sides respond to that pressure."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown