Update on the Lions preparations for Boks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Major doubts still surround this July’s tour to South Africa but that uncertainty won’t stop Warren Gatland from trying to do everything he can to be as best prepared as possible.
The British and Irish Lions coach Gatland is set to fly into the UK to begin his Six Nations scouting mission.
The Kiwi has been living in New Zealand since the 2019 World Cup finals in Japan marked the end of his twelve-year stint in charge of Wales. He spent 2020 working for the Super Rugby Chiefs, losing his last nine matches in charge of the Hamilton-based franchise before switching over to his Lions brief for 2021.
Gatland had always planned to use the upcoming Six Nations as an in-person scouting mission and despite tightening Covid-19 restrictions in the UK in recent weeks, he has still opted to travel from New Zealand so that he can watch games live rather than on television.
Six Nations matches are set to be played behind closed doors but Gatland is believed to have received clearance to attend his weekend’s opening fixtures between England and Scotland in London on Saturday and the following day’s meeting in Cardiff of Wales and Ireland, the two countries he has coached during his lengthy coaching career.
He was last in the UK in October attending a number of matches, including the Champions Cup final where Exeter Chiefs defeated Racing at Bristol.
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Gatland, who chose to delay the November announcement of his Lions coaching staff, is thought to be spending the coming weeks at his second home in Wales.
His schedule for the competition has yet to be finalised but Sportsmail has also reported that the Lions boss has received permission to visit England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in training, something he did when in charge for the 2017 drawn Test series versus New Zealand.
In contrast, South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber sits with a huge dilemma.
Nienaber’s Springboks have not played a Test match since winning the World Cup trophy in 2019. To make things worst the Champs have been dealing with major injuries to key individuals.
World Player of the Year for 2019 Pieter-Steph du Toit, flyhalf Handre Pollard, locks Lood de Jager and RG Snyman all find themselves on the sidelines due to long-term injuries.
While players like Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Faf de Klerk, Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi are all abroad – making preparations impossible.