British & Irish Lions
Gatland to keep Lions picks secret
March 20, 2013
Warren Gatland will not inform players prior to the press conference on April 30 © Getty Images
Warren Gatland has revealed that the players will not be informed of their selection for the British & Irish Lions' tour this summer prior to the public announcement.
Lions hopefuls will learn their fate when Gatland's squad is unveiled at a press conference on April 30. And Gatland says he and his fellow coaches, Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley and Andy Farrell, will not finalise their squad until close to the deadline in order to give injured players every opportunity to prove their fitness.
Gatland, who is expected to take 35 to 37 players in his squad, will hold a fourth selection meeting with his fellow coaches this week and will hold a final meeting late in April. That will allow them to watch the Heineken Cup quarter and semi finals before making their final decisions.
"We are not going to let any player know that he has been selected before it has been announced to the public," Gatland told the Daily Telegraph. "That is how it was traditionally done. I can remember an All Blacks squad being announced on the radio while I was driving a car and hearing that I was in the squad! I nearly drove off the side of the road.
"In the three meetings we have had, we looked at picking a squad at that particular time, so we didn't pick players that were injured. Some players have come back from injury, some have picked up injuries. The next six weeks before we name the squad we are probably going to end up with a few injuries as well.
"Definitely, without even thinking about it, three names come to mind. [Ireland wing Simon] Zebo, is currently out for 10 weeks so it will be whether he gets himself back in time to put himself into contention. He is inexperienced about at the top level but you can't deny that there is something about him in terms of scoring tries and something happens when he is on the field.
"Paul O'Connell [the Ireland lock] is also coming back - but can he get himself fit enough? Dan Lydiate [the Wales flanker] is the other one. There are others as well, Alex Corbisiero [England prop] and Tommy Bowe [Ireland wing]. The players whose clubs sides are in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cups, those are the games you want to see players perform in. That is why I want to name the squad on April 30, so I get a chance to see players who have come back and a couple of match-ups as well."
Gatland admitted he will have to select a squad that is capable of playing in a variety of ways. Although he is eager to see the Lions play an attacking, running game, he is also aware that a strong forward pack and a sound kicking game will be required for the three-Test tour against the Wallabies.
"We have got to go out there with a team with the physicality to be able to play and play up front if we want to," he said. "But you are not going to go and win a Lions series in Australia without playing rugby. We need to have the ability and confidence to go there and score tries.
"It is going to be on the top of the ground so we are looking for forwards to bring physicality and mobility as well. We need to be being strong defensively of course but the subtleties of passing, offloading and getting the ball away will be important to scoring tries.
"People say, why are you kicking the ball instead of running it? But you actually need a kicking game to create a bit of space because you need to keep teams guessing and potentially slow the line speed down. The team that is best at doing that is the All Blacks. [Dan] Carter kicks it early on to have that variation, stop your line speed so when they do move it they have that opportunity and that's where we have to be smart.
"This series is all about winning. In 2009 we went to South Africa and played some fantastic rugby and scored tries but lost the series. Given the choice I would rather play ugly and win than play fantastically and lose. For the future of the Lions, winning this series is very important."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.