Belfast Telegraph

Lions to call up as many as SIX new players as Warren Gatland bolsters squad

Warren Gatland will bring in up to six new players this weekend to bolster his British and Irish Lions squad for the penultimate midweek match against the Chiefs on Tuesday, with all four national coaches prepared for the call-ups.

After being unveiled as Lions coach in September last year, Gatland expressed his concern with how he would protect his Test 23 in the final game before the first meeting with the All Blacks, and he made it clear that he was considering bringing in reinforcements for the week leading up to the first Test in Auckland.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen evidently made note of Gatland’s comments, as he dragged up the possibility of a Lions squad expansion earlier this week. That led to a certain New Zealand media outlet taking those remarks forwards further by claiming that the new arrivals would cause a split in the squad, with those not currently in Gatland’s Test team plans growing unhappy with being exiled from the first team.

That isn’t the case, and as Gatland’s earlier comments from last September reveal, the Kiwi has always planned to bring in additional players to ensure that he is able to use a full complement of players in training while reducing the chances of any Test candidates picking up late injuries.

Speaking after he was unveiled as head coach nine months ago, Gatland said: “One thing that I spoke about in the interview process, the hardest game is the Chiefs game before the first Test. How do you protect that Test match 23?”

With both Wales and Scotland in close proximity, the former already in New Zealand for their tour game against Tonga in Auckland on Friday and the latter close by in Australia ahead of Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies, Gatland has options at his disposal. Ireland are also relatively close with their final summer Test taking place in Japan, but England may prove out of reach with the squad preparing for their match against Argentina on Saturday night in Santa Fe.

“There is potentially an opportunity to maybe bring in four or five to maybe sit on the bench,” Gatland added. “You want to protect that Test 23.”

The imminent arrival of the new additions was only strengthened on Friday when Gatland’s assistant coach Steve Borthwick refused to rule out the rumours, which only went as far as fanning the flames that the decision has already been made.

In what transpired to be a spiky press conference, Borthwick said: “I think if there's a situation where call-ups are going to happen for any player that will be dealt with at the appropriate time when an announcement's to be made,” he said. “And right now there's no announcement.”

Borthwick’s evasive answers continued when asked about the injury that has threatened Owen Farrell’s participation in the first Test against the All Blacks, with the fly-half suffering a thigh strain during training on Thursday morning.

The initial prognosis looks to be around 10 days, which would mean Gatland would be taking a big gamble by playing him in Auckland next weekend, but Borthwick refused to be drawn on how long Farrell could take to recover.

After confirming that Farrell did not train on Friday, Borthwick hit back at the early suggestions that Farrell will be out for between a week and 10 days. “You deal with hypothetical and I'll deal with what the facts are,” Borthwick said. “He'll be back as soon as he's fit and able to be back.

“What we're working for is improvement, working on the aspects we're trying to develop. We need another step forward in performance. We’re looking to raise our level of performance in all different areas.”

Independent News Service


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