British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland gives his thoughts on the tour of South Africa in 2021.
Are you looking forward to the tour after the lessons of 2009?
I am really excited about South Africa, particularly with the rugby history and tradition for the game. I think it is a beautiful country to tour. The rugby is traditionally very tough. For us, there is the challenge of playing at sea level and at altitude. Also after the tour of 2009, I have a bit of unfinished business.
What drew you to the challenge of coaching the Lions again?
I suppose the chance to lead three Lions tours undefeated was one of the things that motivated me to accept this role. The Lions tours are unique and so special, they are different to old traditional tours. The southern hemisphere nations don’t often get to experience matches where 40 or 50% of the support is from away fans. That creates an unbelievable atmosphere. It is something nobody will forget. That’s what makes the Lions more special than anything else.
Is there still a sense of injustice after the Lions suffered an agonising defeat in the second Test in 2009?
My recollection of the Tests in 2009 is that they were brutal and the physicality was tough. I learned a lot as a coach, particularly as South Africa did not allow their Test players to play in any of the lead-up games. That probably gave us a false sense of where we were as a squad. We struggled in the scrums in that first Test, in particular. We were really disappointed to lose the second Test when we were looking at a draw and Morne Steyn kicked a penalty from 55m. It was so important for us to win the third Test. In 2009 there were question marks over the Lions and whether they were going to continue. Our focus was to go to South Africa and earn some respect. We want that brand to be successful because everyone wants the tours to be competitive.
You were quoted as saying South Africa is the easiest of the southern hemisphere nations to tour. Do you still believe that?
I can’t remember saying that. Logistically, it is the easiest place to get to in the southern hemisphere. You don’t have the problems with the jet lag and the time zones are similar. From that point of view, it is easier. But from a rugby aspect, it is not at all. I know how tough it is, having been involved in playing for Waikato and touring there with Ireland and Wales. England found it difficult last year, so we realise it is going to be a real challenge. Rassie Erasmus has done a good job so far. The Springboks are going to continue to improve and will have a really good World Cup.
Wales have won five of their last six Tests against South Africa. Have you found a formula to beating the Springboks?
There have been some really tight Tests between Wales and South Africa. We have been lucky enough to come out on the right side of the scoreline. The focus is on matching the Springboks’ physicality. You have to be really strong defensively and negate their ball-carriers. That is a simple analogy of how we have planned for our games against South Africa. – Dylan Jack
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