VIDEO: Gatland covering all his bases as Boks loom
The British and Irish Lions can’t afford to underestimate Japan, but they are already planning for their eight-match tour of South Africa.
The B&I Lions face Japan at Murrayfield this week, a warm-up Test, before heading to the Republic – where they will face the world champion Springboks in a three-Test series.
It provides head coach Warren Gatland and his backroom staff with a dilemma of contrasts – the vastly different tactics of the two opponents.
“Japan will look to play with a little bit more tempo,” he told a virtual media briefing, after naming his team to play in the pre-tour warm-up Test at Murrayfield on Saturday.
“They don’t have the physical prowess, in terms of taking you on at set-piece time – scrum, line-out and mauling.
“They won’t be as direct as we expect South Africa to be.
“We’ve got that in mind and we want to go out there and play a gameplan against Japan where we feel we can be successful with, but also keeping in mind that we are preparing towards South Africa as well.
“So there are two things, we are trying to cover off both challenges.
“We want to use the tactics we can have success with against Japan, but also bear in mind what we are likely to face against the South African teams.”
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He said he expects “a really strong” test from Japan.
“They have already had a warm-up game against the Sunwolves, where they probably felt they weren’t at their best – particularly in the first 50 or 60 minutes,” the B&I Lions boss said.
“However, they will be a lot stronger as a combination for the game on Saturday.
“They are World Cup quarterfinalists so you have to respect what they have achieved in recent years.
“We go in expecting a tough encounter. We know we will be a little bit rusty. It’s brilliant that we will have some crowd there in Edinburgh.”
Gatland also spoke of having a “mix-and-match” policy on the tour, making it clear every player will get a crack at making the Test team.”
“We haven’t got any pre-conceived ideas about the Test side,” Gatland said.
“Everyone in the squad will get a start before the start of the Test Series, so each member of the squad can put their hand up for Test selection.
“The door is never closed for anyone.”
The B&I Lions start their tour when they face the Johannesburg-bases Lions at Ellis Park next Saturday, July 3.
That is followed by games against the Sharks (Ellis Park, July 7), Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, July 10), South Africa A (Cape Town Stadium, July 14) and the Stormers (Cape Town, July 17).
The Test matches are at the Cape Town Stadium (July 24) and Soccer City in Soweto (July 31 and August 8).