Lions must make changes to succeed in NZ

NICK MULVENNEY
Last updated 19:30 07/07/2013
Warren Gatland
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WARREN GATLAND: "To be successful, you want to have the best possible opportunity, in New Zealand in four years time poses a different challenge to Australia."

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The British and Irish Lions must be allowed adequate preparation time if they are to build on the success of their 2-1 series win over Australia when they travel to face New Zealand in 2017, coach Warren Gatland said on Sunday.

The dust had barely settled on the tourists' first series triumph in 16 years, sealed with Saturday's crushing 41-16 victory over the Wallabies in Sydney, when thoughts turned to the next tour against the All Blacks in four years' time.

The Lions have only won one series in New Zealand, back in 1971, and Gatland said his experience over the last two months proved to him that there must be changes to the scheduling if they are to have a chance of another victory there.

"I think it's important that the Lions and the home unions get together in terms of adequate preparation time," he told reporters in Sydney.

"The season needs to be adjusted a little bit so we can spend a couple of weeks in the UK and Ireland preparing properly.

"There needs to be some negotiations with the southern hemisphere to push things back a bit in terms of lead-up games.

"To be successful, you want to have the best possible opportunity, in New Zealand in four years time poses a different challenge to Australia.

"I'm not saying it's harder, it's different from a logistical point of view.

"They've got make sure they've got the proper processes in place to give the Lions the best opportunity to be successful."

Gatland did not dismiss out of hand the suggestion that he might return as Lions coach for that tour, saying: "it's something that potentially I'd look at".

As a successful New Zealander, however, he could just as easily be All Blacks coach in 2017.

'MISSED THE STORY'

Despite the satisfaction of a win on Saturday which vindicated his selection, Gatland was clearly still digesting the reaction to his decision to drop Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll for the decisive test and pack his team with Welshmen.

"A lot of you made a point about the number of Welsh players that were selected but I think you missed the story," the 49-year-old Wales coach said.

"The story was about the finishing team and the guys that came off the bench and the job they did. I thought they were absolutely outstanding

"It came down to the wire, that's why you're involved in professional sport, you want it to be tough, you want it to be close, you want it to be exciting and you want it to be nailbiting, and it definitely fulfilled all those elements."

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As for O'Driscoll, who tour manager Andy Irvine said he rated as the greatest Lion of all, Gatland reiterated that he had made the decision for the right reasons.

"To be honest, if we had selected Brian, we would have won the game with that performance as well," he said.

"But I felt at the time that the call was the right rugby decision, not a sentimental decision.

"Spoke to Brian after the game and said, I know how disappointing it was, but he was part of a winning series."

Gatland said he would be delighted if the series triumph played a part in continuing Lions tours in the future.

"It's something that we need to preserve for the modern game," he said.

"It's special, just the fans and so on, it's been a privilege for me to be a part of it and to experience it.

"It's not just in Britain and Ireland, I've had texts from friends back in New Zealand with people were more interested in the Lions than the French being in New Zealand because of the excitement it created."

Lions tour captain Sam Warburton missed the final test with a hamstring injury and spoke perhaps for all the squad players outside the matchday 23 at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night.

"It put a smile on my face when I woke up this morning," he grinned. "I looked over to my roomy and we both said 'test series winners' and that's what it's all about."

- Reuters

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