Reappointed British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says his unfinished business with the Springboks was a motivator for him to retain the job. DYLAN JACK reports.
Gatland was confirmed on Wednesday as the Lions’ head coach for their tour to South Africa in 2021, retaining the job after coaching the amalgamation outfit to a series victory over the Wallabies in 2013, and a drawn series with the All Blacks in 2017.
It will be Gatland’s fourth tour with the Lions after he worked as an assistant to Ian McGeechan during the last tour to South Africa in 2009. The Springboks won the series through a Morné Steyn penalty in the last minute of the second Test.
‘I am really excited about South Africa, particularly with their rugby history and tradition for the game,’ Gatland said. ‘I think it is a beautiful country to go and tour. For us, there is the challenge of playing at sea level and at altitude. Also after the tour of 2009, there is personally a bit of unfinished business.
‘My recollection of the Tests in 2009, it was 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. We struggled in the scrums in that first Test, in particular.
‘We were really disappointed that we lost the second Test when we were looking at a draw and Morné Steyn kicked a penalty from 55m. It was so important for us to win that third Test. In 2009 there were question marks over the Lions and whether it was going to continue. Our focus was to go to South Africa and try and earn some respect. We want that brand to be successful.’
Should Gatland avoid a series defeat in 2021, he will create Lions history by becoming the first person to lead tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and remain unbeaten.
‘I suppose the challenge of leading three Lions tours undefeated in a Test series was one of the things that motivated me to want to accept this role,’ Gatland said. ‘The Lions are unique and so special. I understand how important financially it is to the host union. That is an important part and aspect of the game and the Lions. It is unique in the way of old traditional tours.
‘The Southern Hemisphere nations don’t often get to experience where you have 40 or 50% of the support being away fans. That creates an unbelievable atmosphere. It is something nobody will forget. That’s what makes the Lions more special than anything else.’
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