Gatland: Continuity key when selecting coaching staff
Warren Gatland has stressed the importance of consistency in his backroom staff as The British & Irish Lions prepare to take on reigning world champions South Africa in 2021.
With less than a year to go until the Lions lock horns with the Springboks, thoughts are beginning to turn to who Gatland will select as his assistant coaches for next year’s series.
It will be Gatland’s first Tour to South Africa as head coach but his third overall after leading the Lions to victory in Australia in 2013 before holding New Zealand to a 1-1 draw in 2017.
And speaking on the Will Greenwood Podcast, Gatland said his experience with the Lions has taught him that continuity is key when it comes to selecting his coaching staff.
“One of the things that I’ve found really, really important is that, yes, you want to make a few changes and you want to bring some new faces and new voices in, but you don’t want a clean sweep,” Gatland said.
“You want to have some continuity because things happen pretty quickly, you have limited time in terms of preparation. You don’t want to go into a Lions tour and try and reinvent the wheel.
“Having some continuity with support staff and coaches that have been there and understand the complexities and how tough it is – that makes a big difference.
“That’s definitely something that I’ve found from 2009 to now, is having that continuity with a number of individuals makes getting up to speed a heck of a lot easier than bringing a whole new group of people that haven’t worked together with each other before, because that time, that preparation leading into those first games and leading into the Test matches is very, very limited.”
Gatland took Rob Howley as his attack coach, Graham Rowntree as forwards coach and Andy Farrell as defence coach in 2013, having been an assistant coach himself in 2009.
He then retained Howley and Farrell in their positions for the 2017 Tour to New Zealand while also bringing in Steve Borthwick as forwards coach and asking Rowntree to look after the scrum.
But while Gatland confirmed he has started having conversations about next year’s Tour, he said there is still a long way to go before he is able to put his backroom team in place.
“The first step is to get clarity from unions and the bosses and then potentially club CEOs about who is available, who isn’t available,” Gatland explained to Greenwood.
“If you weren’t picking someone from an international setup and you were looking at someone from a club setup, then you’ve got to look at what’s their availability in terms of that timing of the year and they’ve got club games on and you’ve got selection meetings and all those sorts of things.
“So there’s a lot of things, a huge number of things to consider, and hopefully in the next couple of months we will be able to put all that together.”
Next year’s eight-match Tour is highly anticipated as the Lions bid to repeat their memorable 1997 success – and Gatland is looking forward to the challenge that awaits his team.
“It’s a massive challenge, we’re up against the world champions,” he added. “The last Tour was up against the world champions as well and it was the same situation in 2009.
“It is incredibly exciting and we know how passionate the South Africans are about their rugby. As was the case in New Zealand, there are no easy games and it’s incredibly tough from the get-go.
“We need to get up to speed fairly quickly and get as much preparation before the Test series. It’s incredibly exciting to tour South Africa and to see their passion for the game.”