Lions coaching group at the ready, SA2021 squad list next on list

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Warren Gatland has selected his Lions coaching group. So, next on their list is to decide on, and announce their SA2021 squad list.

With all the attention that any British and Irish Lions squad gains – considering it only occurs once every four years – media outlets are rife with initial probable XVs. Last Word on Rugby contributors have entertained form players, possible bolters, and that will continue until the official SA2021 squad list is released.

The date for that is likely to be on, or about, May 7. That is the Thursday before Round 18 of the Gallagher Premiership regular season. That would also be aligned to the early round of matches for the Rainbow Cup. Names most likely decided well before each competition readies for probable playoffs and finals. So in approximately two weeks, the ‘tight five’ will finalize the men who will prepare for a rare fixture on United Kingdom territory.

Prior to that game, a training camp in Jersey is scheduled, before the warm-up game and then the full squad takes flight to South Africa.

In the meantime, Gatland and his newly assembled coaching group will plan. Or ‘add to plans’ already developed by the two-time British and Irish Lions (BIL) head coach. He selected each individual, to become a cohesive unit – so much like a team does, this pre-June period is about creating a collaborative culture in a short period of time.

Lions coaching group at the ready, SA2021 squad list next on list

It is no longer about long lunches. Not in a long list become a shortlist (even though fans would imagine that process). Today’s BIL planning has already begun the process of elimination, and each of the four assistant coaches will bring their own vision.

Robin McBryde is already a known quantity. The former Wales assistant has been with Leinster since late 2019, so will have an awareness of Celtic League players. As will Neil Jenkins. The Lions and Welsh veteran was a part of the successful 2017 tour group, so his familiarity with the culture and coaching structure will help ‘fill in the dots’ when it comes to processes.

Gregor Townsend brings the International coaching experience, as well as the knowledge of what players expect and react best to. His term with the 1997 Lions tour party will help bridge the function of how a player interacts with his coach/coaches. An important factor, if the initial training in the UK will create the right baseline of a fluent BIL squad.

Who is Steve Tandy and what can he offer the Lions?

Steve Tandy will have a unique role and expect him and possibly some additional skills advisors to round out the checklist that Gatland has perfected over multiple terms with the Lions.

Tried and proven ‘Warren-checks’ made for SA2021 squad list

Only Alun Wyn Jones has more time within a British and Irish Lions set-up but, Warren Gatland has some tried and proven methods at the ready. So while the make-up of the SA2021 squad list will be revealed, it is how the tour operates that can lead to success.

And with a global pandemic as their backdrop, the steps to being a safe environment could make this tour for all involved, incredibly difficult. As much as the continent has always been demanding, operating under Covid makes the decisions, planning, and preventative measures, doubly important.

In terms of potential players, Townsend and Tandy have been seen monitoring some Premiership/Championship players. And expect Celtic League candidates to also have the rule run over their form. Even the best pundits possibles can only be comparable after the May announcement.

Gregor Townsend (L) and Steve Tandy look on during the Greene King IPA Championship match between Doncaster Knights and Saracens at Castle Park in Doncaster. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Expect the team Doctor to have a staff that will be working on Testing, environmental and facilities compliance, on top of ensuring the players don’t feel closeted. Unlike in the past, socializing will be done behind a face mask. Physical distancing will reduce exposure to local schools, clubs, and may disturb some of the traditional values that host nations look to engage from the tourists. Though, every effort could still be made to have touchpoints for fans, that must be done with a safe mindset.

Several factors that will have had the ‘Warren-checks’ applied to, will be:

  • Players and Staff will likely all be vaccinated. That may in fact be mandatory for every person involved
  • A tour party bubble will reduce exposure to the local Covid-conditions
  • Travel-in, travel-out policy for games versus PRO14 teams in host cities
  • Regular testing and proactive personnel health measures to manage possible outbreaks

All good intentions surround this 2021 Castle Lager Lions Series. The fact that it continues unabated, is testament to the commitment shown by the BIL board. Their sincerity to both fans, and to the South African Rugby Union. That is acknowledged although, not guaranteed. Everything hinges on the local conditions being stable – none of the management can risk taking such a large group to a region where individuals may become sick (or worse).

For now, all that the new coaching group can do is to be prepared as best they can.


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