Incoming Chiefs coach Warren Gatland has pleaded to Premiership clubs in England to move the competition’s final in 2021 to allow for better preparation for that year’s British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
The outgoing Welsh coach will take a year off from his Chiefs duties to take charge of the composite side on their tour to the Republic after two successful tours against the Wallabies in 2013 and the All Blacks in 2017.
However, the 56-year-old had to withstand “horrendous” preparation leading into his trip to New Zealand two years ago, with the Lions arriving in the country just four days prior to their opening tour match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians to accomodate the domestic club finals in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
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The star-studded Lions outfit stuttered to a 13-7 victory over the semi-professional outfit in Whangarei, but lost two of their following three matches against the Blues and Highlanders.
Revelations of jet-lagged players sleeping on the team bus on the way to the Barbarians match was indicative of the rough travel schedule the Lions had to endure, and Gatland is desperate to avoid a repeat situation when his side depart for South Africa in two years’ time.
“I would hate to ever go through what we had to do in 2017,” he told the Daily Mail.
“The team assembled after the two finals, met at the leaving dinner, flew out on the Monday, arrived on the Wednesday and played on the Friday [Saturday].
“People were asleep on the bus to the game because of the jet-lag. It was horrendous.”
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Adding to the challenge of the next Lions tour is the fact that Gatland’s side will be tasked with downing the newly-crowned world champion Springboks over a three-test series in their home nation.
Doing so will prove to be difficult if the Daily Mail‘s report that the Premiership final will take place just a week before the Lions’ first match of the 2021 tour.
It’s a move which has left Gatland dismayed, especially after the Pro14 revealed it would be moving its final that year to alleviate the scheduling stress faced by the Lions.
“They have said they are not moving their final which I find very disappointing,” he told the Daily Mail.
“In fairness to the Pro14 they have moved theirs a week earlier. If PRL did that it would be fantastic. We are still negotiating with them. It would help us so much in the planning and preparation. I am saying to the clubs and PRL, embrace the Lions. You are going to play the world champions now.
“I want to say to them that there’s an opportunity for players to go on a Lions tour and come back as superstars. With the interest that the Lions creates, the viewers it gets, if someone goes out there as an unknown or comes from a club side and becomes a superstar, how brilliant is that for the clubs?
“They can promote someone who has been on the Lions, they can sell more tickets and then kids what to watch them play and all sorts.
“I think we’re just missing a trick here. I cannot understand why PRL would not want to be more positive about doing more to help the Lions and embrace it.
“Everyone else seems love it – the players, fans and everyone else – it just seems there is a small group, whether it is the owners I am not 100 per cent sure, that are not keen on supporting it.
“Fans love it, South Africa will get into it, the players will too. It’s the one frustrating thing I will have to deal with. Hopefully common sense will prevail.
“We still have time to make a decision to move that final in 2021 – there is enough time to make that change.
“Whether they are playing hard-ball or not it would be nice to give the Lions the best possible chance to go there and win the series.”
The Lions lost their last test series against the Springboks in 2009, where Gatland acted as an assistant Sir Ian McGeechan, to going down 2-1 overall.
Gatland will report for Chiefs duty on December 3 following his farewell from Wales on November 30, where he will coach the Barbarians against his former side at Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
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