Warren Gatland has selected nearly 100 players in his time as British & Irish Lions head coach – but phone calls to assistants Steve Tandy and Robin McBryde will always live with him.
The pair will coach the Lions for the first time this summer, joining fellow debutant coach Gregor Townsend and Neil Jenkins, who is back for a fourth Tour as a coach and sixth overall.
Scotland head coach Townsend – who played in the famous 1997 series, along with Jenkins – will lead the attack, while Tandy will hope to replicate his success coaching Scotland’s defence.
Scotland conceded the second fewest points in the 2021 Six Nations and the Welshman has been rewarded for their excellent away wins at England and France with the keys to the Lions defence this summer.
Leinster coach McBryde will oversee the forwards and knows Gatland well from their time with Wales, while Jenkins will reprise his role as kicking coach.
And Gatland can’t wait to get to work with his new team, with the Tour less than three months away.
“We have tried to get some new faces with Gregor coming on board but then I also have that familiarity with Robin McBryde, who is someone I know and trust incredibly well, and who knows me and how I work,” he said.
“Robin has done a really good job at Leinster and expanded his role there.
“The buzz I got was having the phone call to Robin and Steve Tandy about asking them to come on board. Their response was unbelievable, it was brilliant.
“Steve was shaking at the knees, he was so excited. And Robin said he didn’t know what to do with himself as he walked around his apartment.
“Their response was exactly what I wanted to hear. I am delighted with the team we have got, I might bring someone in a bit later on. It might be someone who comes in before the Tour or during the Tour.”
The next step for Gatland is to name his squad, and of course his captain, with May 6 the date in the diary.
Gatland chose Sam Warburton to captain the 2013 and 2017 squads and says he will now think long and hard about who he wants to perform the role this summer.
Whoever gets the job, the message is simple: they still need to justify their place in the side.
“Whoever is captain, it is about having a conversation with them and saying you might be captain on Tour but you still have to perform well and play well,” he said.
“There is no guarantee that person will play in the Test matches.
“Everyone needs to understand that. Because if you are picked and play in the same position of the captain, you need to know you can play.
“As we get closer to naming the squad, I’ll think more carefully about who is the right person and right personality.”
The Lions’ first match this summer will come against Japan at BT Murrayfield before they fly to South Africa.
There they will face the Stormers, a South Africa Invitational side, the Sharks, South Africa A and the Bulls before three Test matches against the Springboks.
Every Lions Tour is unique but none more so than this year’s, due to the impact of Covid-19. And Gatland says he has been working hard to ensure the players have a brilliant experience.
“One of the things I have spoken about is putting the players first in terms of things we can do in the bubble. How we keep them entertained and mentally stimulated,” he said.
“That is really important. It is going to be a challenge to keep the players entertained and we have lots of ideas coming to us, card nights, games nights, pool games, golf simulators and all different things.
“We need to alleviate some of the issues, such as the boredom that comes with been cooped up all the time. It is going to be a challenge but hopefully we can get that right.”