Warren Gatland has returned to the UK to begin the scouting process ahead of the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa, the coach taking in the Monday night Gallagher Premiership win by Harlequins at Gloucester.
Lions boss Gatland had been in New Zealand throughout 2020, initially taking charge of the Chiefs in the abandoned Super Rugby tournament before enduring a horrible time in the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa series, his team losing all eight of their matches to finish bottom of the five-team competition and spark criticism of his work in Hamilton.
With that awkward experience behind him as he is taking a 2021 sabbatical from the Super Rugby side, Gatland is now back in the UK ahead of next weekend’s eagerly awaited Heineken Champions and Challenge Cup quarter-finals, a knockout stage line-up that includes the plum tie of Leinster versus Saracens in Dublin on Saturday.
Gatland’s third Test team in the 2017 drawn series in New Zealand contained seven starters at that time drawn from Saracens and Leinster – Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Maro Itoje for the Londoners, Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and Sean O’Brien for the Irish.
With Farrell suspended, doubts over Furlong’s fitness and O’Brien no longer at Leinster, some different names will be on the list Gatland will be running the rule over, but that match-up in Dublin – a repeat of the 2019 Heineken Cup final between the clubs – will accelerate the New Zealand’s scouting process which next month will include European and Premiership finals along with the conclusion of the delayed 2020 Guinness Six Nations championship.
Gatland, who guested a few months ago on the RugbyPass Lockdown interview series, was pictured at Kingsholm in the main stand in the company of Alan Phillips, his long-serving team manager during his lengthy spell in charge of Wales which ended following their fourth place finish at last year’s World Cup in Japan.
The Marcus Smith-led Harlequins defeated Danny Cipriani’s Gloucester 28-15 in the Monday night fixture.
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