Gatland talks selection

Lions head coach Warren Gatland says supporters will learn the make of his squad to tour Hong Kong and Australia at the same time as the players. [more]

Gatland talks selection

Lions head coach Warren Gatland says supporters will learn the make of his squad to tour Hong Kong and Australia at the same time as the players.

Gatland plans to announce his touring party in London on April 30, a month and a day before Britain and Ireland’s elite kick off their 125th anniversary against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

As in 2009 when the Lions headed to South Africa, the highly-anticipated announcement will take place live on TV, with those chosen by Gatland, fellow coaches Rob Howley, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell and tour manager Andy Irvine not being notified of the honour beforehand.

“We are not going to let any player know that he has been selected before it has been announced to the public,” Gatland told the Daily Telegraph.

“That is how it was traditionally done. I can remember an All Blacks squad being announced on the radio while I was driving a car and hearing that I was in the squad! I nearly drove off the side of the road.”

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Gatland and his staff have already held three Lions selections meetings so far this season and a fourth is scheduled for this week.

The Wales boss admits that there is still plenty to debate following a fascinating end to the international campaign at the weekend and he insists a large number of places remain up for grabs.

This weekend’s return to domestic action and the European encounters that follow in April will have a big bearing on his ultimate squad selection as a number of players look to force themselves into contention following lengthy spells on the sidelines.

“The players whose clubs sides are in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cups, those are the games you want to see players perform in,” added Gatland.

“That is why I want to name the squad on April 30, so I get a chance to see players who have come back and a couple of match-ups as well.

“In the three meetings we have had, we looked at picking a squad at that particular time, so we didn’t pick players that were injured.

“Some players have come back from injury, some have picked up injuries. In the next six weeks before we name the squad we are probably going to end up with a few injuries as well.

“Without even thinking about it, three names come to mind. Simon Zebo is currently out for 10 weeks so it will be whether he gets himself back in time to put himself into contention. He is inexperienced at the top level but you can’t deny that there is something about him in terms of scoring tries and something happens when he is on the field.

“Paul O’Connell is also coming back – but can he get himself fit enough? Dan Lydiate is the other one.

“There are others as well, Alex Corbisiero and Tommy Bowe.”

Pundits up and down the four Home Nations are furiously debating who should be on the plane this summer, with former stars and media men predicting what type of game the tourists will employ to take on the Wallabies.

The man charged with developing that game plan insists he won’t be looking to simply batter the Aussies into submission or match their pace and agility out wide: he’ll be aiming to do both as the Lions go in search of a first series success since 1997.

“We have got to go out there with a team with the physicality to be able to play and play up front if we want to. But you are not going to go and win a Lions series in Australia without playing rugby.

“We need to have the ability and confidence to go there and score tries. It is going to be on the top of the ground so we are looking for forwards to bring physicality and mobility as well.

“We need to be being strong defensively of course but the subtleties of passing, offloading and getting the ball away will be important to scoring tries.

“This series is all about winning. In 2009 we played some fantastic rugby and scored tries but lost the series. Given the choice I would rather play ugly and win than play fantastically and lose. For the future of the Lions, winning this series is very important.”

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