British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says he’s excited about the prospect of getting the best out of his newly extended squad rather than losing sleep over the fitness of some of his big names.
Gatland called up a quartet of new faces ahead of Tuesday’s clash with the Brumbies, with Billy Twelvetrees, Brad Barritt, Christian Wade and Shane Williams all set to start in Canberra following injury concerns over the likes Jamie Roberts, Manu Tuilagi, George North and Tommy Bowe.
“Not really, no,” was Gatland’s response when asked whether this was the most taxing selection situation he’s ever faced as a coach. “I’m excited about the situation we’re in.
“The fact you pick up injuries, that’s part of the game and it’s a great opportunity for other players to come in and put their hands up and that’s what’s great about the squad at the moment: you might pick up one or two injuries but some people are making the most of their opportunities.
“I thought a good example was the Waratahs game when a couple of players really stepped up. I thought Alun Wyn Jones was brilliant, I thought Jonathan Davies the way he played was fantastic. It’s nice to see players when they’re under pressure get the chance to come in and do well.
“I think we’ve got a strong squad and if we do pick up one or two injuries there are alot of people capable of coming in and doing a job for us.”
The Lions have won all five of their tour matches to date and Gatland is happy with the progress his side have been making ahead of Saturday’s opening Test against the Qantas Wallabies in Brisbane.
The man charged with leading Britain and Ireland’s elite to a first series success since 1997 believes his boys are on the right track, regardless of the result against the recently-crowned Australian Conference Champions at the Canberra Stadium.
“We are where we are at the moment and we’re in a good place. Physically, we’re in good shape. We’re big, we’re powerful and we are playing some really good rugby,” added Gatland.
“It was interesting talking to a few of our players after the game (on Saturday) – they were talking to a few of the Waratahs who said Australia are in for a tough match next week.
“There was no better indication of that than the last 12 minutes or so when we were down to 14 men: we came under pressure but we were pretty comfortable and didn’t look like we were down to 14 men. The whole squad would have felt good about that, that you’ve got that confidence there that you are good enough to win.
“I’ve said all along, this tour was about the Test matches, and if we dropped one or two games along the way I was willing to sacrifice that to win the Test series. No one is going to remember if we win all the other matches and lose the Test series.
“It’s all about winning the Test series so you’ve got to be prepared to make a couple of tough calls. If we don’t turn up on Saturday with the best possible chance and everyone fit and fresh, I don’t think it’s fair on the rest of the squad, the players or that jersey.”