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The pre-match Gatland plea to preserve the long term Lions future

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has used his pre-game live TV interview on Sky Sports to issue a plea to safeguard the future of the Lions whose 2021 tour to South Africa comes to an end on Saturday night with their third and final Test versus the Springboks in Cape Town. 

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The tour was surrounded by numerous twists and turns regarding whether it would go ahead due to the pandemic and there was also the traditional in-fighting with Premiership Rugby who were unhappy the Lions had scheduled their warm-up versus Japan for the same June 26 day as the Gallagher Premiership final. 

With an English club player release agreement eventually agreed at the eleventh hour, there were also numerous obstacles to be faced while on tour in South Africa with fixtures and venues getting changed at short notice. However, the tour managed to beat the odds and make it to the final weekend where Gatland talked about the need to better protect the Lions brand when plans are made for their next adventure, the 2025 trip to Australia.  

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“It has been a real challenge and I know there have been lots of things about whether the tour should have been cancelled or postponed and we made the decision with the South African union to go ahead with the Lions and it has been a massive sacrifice for both teams,” said Gatland. 

This is an unbelievable brand. You talk to anyone involved with it, the players or the southern hemisphere nations, there is two events on the calendar that are the most important ever two years, one is the World Cup and the other one is the Lions.

 

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“It is a very special brand and you see the amount of interest on social media and the digital stuff has just gone through the roof. It’s something we need to preserve and support as much as we possibly can because it is something unique to the rugby calendar and it’s something we need to keep making sure we are fighting for and make sure the Lions are an entity that are successful.”

Not since 2005 in New Zealand had the Lions been beaten in the third Test of a series and Gatland was adamant his team was better prepared for this Saturday’s finale versus the Springboks than a week ago when they failed to clinch the series victory with a match to spare. 

“We spoke in the hotel about how lucky the 23 were to put the jersey on, that they never know when they will wear it again and the whole squad will never wear the jersey again and they have a responsibility in terms of passing that mantle on to another player in four years’ time and what it means to be a Lion and what it means to put that jersey. 

“There is definitely a real edge about this group at the moment, something that possibly wasn’t quite there last week. I spoke to the players about that mental thing about being four or five per cent off and it counted against us but we did have a get-out-of-jail card in terms of winning the first Test and when I look back on it, we were just a few per cent off in terms of where we needed to be but there has definitely been a real edge about this week.” 

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The pre-match Gatland plea to preserve the long term Lions future

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