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Gatland wants fixture help for Lions' South Africa trip

 

Familiar face: Warren Gatland will lead the British and Irish Lions for the third time
Familiar face: Warren Gatland will lead the British and Irish Lions for the third time

By Nick Purewal

Warren Gatland has heaped the pressure on Premiership and PRO14 bosses to give the British and Irish Lions enough preparation time to win their Test series in South Africa.

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Gatland will aim to become the first coach to remain unbeaten through three Lions Test series when leading the touring side against the Springboks in 2021.

The Lions' schedule is still being decided, but global restructuring means the South Africa tour will be the shortest yet - whittled down to eight games in just five weeks.

And Gatland has now called on Premiership and Pro14 chiefs to schedule their finals early enough for the Lions to have as long as two weeks together before jetting off on tour.

"The people I talk to are conscious of what a massive role the Lions do play in the game," said Gatland.

"The Southern Hemisphere definitely do want to support the Lions, they know that's very important.

"They are very positive about the Lions as a concept and making sure it continues.

"We have to keep fighting for our preparation, enough time together to give ourselves the best opportunities to be successful.

"The challenge is to work with our partners, who are the PRO14 and PRL at the moment, to make sure that relationship is positive to enable us to be successful."

Gatland will relinquish his role as Wales boss after the autumn's World Cup, then start his official Lions duties in August 2020.

The 55-year-old wanted his early confirmation as Lions boss so that he can play a central role in lobbying the game's governing bodies for extra preparation time.

And now he hopes he can receive as much help from the Northern Hemisphere as the south.

"I don't think we're being excessive in what we're asking for," said Gatland.

"We don't want six weeks together, we want a couple of weeks before we leave these shores to give ourselves the best chance.

"We want to be in the best possible shape to win the Test series, and I think the Southern Hemisphere want the Lions to be as strong as they possibly can because they see it as an important part of their schedule too.

"Scheduling hasn't been finalised yet. Negotiations are under way with Pro14 and PRL as to when finals are locked in and how much time we'll have together as a group before we go on tour."

The Lions could take a trimmed-down squad to South Africa to combat their shorter tour, with Gatland admitting he is already weighing up how best to deploy resources.

"I've got to make everyone feel a part of it," said Gatland.

"But ironically as the tours get potentially shorter, what Clive Woodward did in 2005 with two teams, that's potentially the easiest solution.

"But does that undermine and undervalue the jersey, and does that split the squad apart?

"We've spoken about that, and it's not the pathway we want to take. We want to try to take a group of players and keep them tight.

"We want everyone selected to feel that they can be part of the Test 23 and we've got to do our best to give everyone that opportunity."

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