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British & Irish Lions South Africa 2021: Gatland plans pre-tour All Blacks ‘decider’

May 31st, 2020Rugby
News broke in early April that Lions head coach Warren Gatland was in discussions with New Zealand Rugby setting up what would be a warm-up match to the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa 2021 against the All Blacks. However, not just any old warm-up match this one, but the ultimate appetiser, a ‘decider’ to settle that extraordinary drawn Lions Series at the end of the 2017 tour to New Zealand. Potentially the game will be staged at England’s home ground, Twickenham in the UK, next summer. Also, what a lucrative match that might be for a sport under pandemic siege, replenishing dwindling club and country exchequers.

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As an aside, is it possible that a fixture of such magnitude as this might influence squad selection? Perhaps Mr Gatland might be tempted to include more of the old guard, although age must have its impact, from that momentous 2017’s Lions series in his squad, giving them the chance to break the deadlock and a morale-boosting success before they board the plane to South Africa.

However, the Lions head coach also believes that the match could generate receipts of around 5 million pounds sterling.  It was revealed that he had held discussions with the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive, Mark Robinson some seven weeks ago. Warren Gatland, a Kiwi himself of course, is back home in the “Land of the Long White Cloud” to take charge of the Hamilton-based Chiefs. There is also now light on his horizon, following New Zealand Rugby’s confirmation that Super Rugby Aotearoa will kick off again next month on June 13th starting with the Highlanders against Gatland’s Chiefs. Obviously very good news from a Lions supporter’s perspective to know that their head coach is keeping his hand in.

Given his twelve year tenure as the former Wales head coach, Gatland’s credentials in terms of setting up this shot in the arm for world rugby are impeccable. Nonetheless, he is also probably pushing for a warm-up match for the Lions before they head down to face the world champion Springboks, because the 2021 series is slightly shorter at eight matches over five weeks compared with 10 over six, three years ago.

The Lions have in fact already been party to talks over facing the Maori All Blacks, while other potential opponents like Japan and the Barbarians have been under consideration. Yet Gatland is convinced that as rugby unions around the world are in the throes of taking a massive financial hit due to Coronavirus, and NZR alone has forecast losses amounting to roughly GBP 50 million, this makes the All Blacks well-nigh perfect candidates for the extra Lions game.

As it stands it is understood that the match would be played over the same weekend as the Gallagher Premiership final, scheduled for 26th June, but also played at Twickenham as an extended double-header, on either the day before or after. The other hosting alternatives are the Principality Stadium in Wales, effectively Warren Gatland’s home ground for 12 years or Scotland’s Murrayfield.

Gatland said in a discussion on Sky Sports New Zealand’s rugby talk show BREAKDOWN on 7th April [Recommended watching as an insight into how he coaches and his evolving coaching career]:

“I’ve spoken to Mark Robinson about a warm-up game for the Lions and he was potentially talking about the New Zealand Maoris. But is it something that the All Blacks go up there for? A ‘decider’ before we go off to South Africa at the end of June next year.

“Potentially it’s an opportunity to make £4m or £5m from a game like that and put some money back into the coffers that we’re going to need.”

So there we have it an intriguing twist in the build-up to the British & Irish Lions 2021 Tour of South Africa, if anyone can make a warm-up encounter of such celestial proportions happen, that man Gatland can and he is still determinedly on the case. So stay with us on all things newsworthy regarding Lions South Africa 2021 tickets & tour packages, rest assured there’s an epic in store.