Sunday 21 January 2018

Warren Gatland warns Munster's PRO12 finalists they're at Lions disadvantage

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland during a press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland during a press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

WARREN GATLAND has warned Munster’s Lions that they’ll be playing catch-up when they link up with the squad next week before travelling to New Zealand.

The head coach admitted results last weekend largely worked in his favour as Saracens, Leinster, Leicester and the Ospreys had their seasons ended, meaning the numbers available for the camp in Kildare this week have swelled from 14 to 30.

Included in that number are Leinster’s Sean O’Brien, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton, who were all part of a positive injury update from the Lions coach yesterday. 

He was also upbeat on the fitness of Wales trio Rhys Webb, Sam Warburton and Ken Owens.

Scans on O’Brien’s calf and McGrath’s arm have come up clear, while Sexton passed a Head Injury Assessment and Furlong trained.

Munster, meanwhile, remain in the hunt for silverware as they take on the Scarlets in Saturday’s Guinness PRO12 final, meaning Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray will not join their Lions team-mates until just before they fly out to New Zealand on Sunday night.

Players from Wasps, Exeter Chiefs and Scarlets are in the same boat and it means they will be behind their squad-mates in terms of preparation.

“We won’t have time next week when the final group of players actually come in to go over some stuff. This week is a little bit of repetition,” Gatland said.

“We had 14 players last week, so the fact we’ve almost doubled the size of the squad this week, there is a bit of repetition of some of the stuff that we’d covered last week.

“And I think that’s important, it’s good for the guys that worked on certain things last weekend, but when they come in next Sunday we won’t be able to again go over the same sort of things that we’ve spent a couple of weeks doing with the squad.

“It’s going to put those players coming in next weekend at a slight disadvantage because they’re going to have to pretty much school themselves or work with the coaches one-on-one and look at the training videos to get up to speed as quick as they can.”

Gatland was keen to move on from the news that Billy Vunipola had

taken the decision to withdraw from the tour with a shoulder injury.

The England star had been pencilled in by most as a Test starter, but Gatland conceded his absence means that CJ Stander is now being considered as a No 8 for the tour.

The Munster star has played most of his international rugby for Ireland at blindside flanker, but he finished the Six Nations against England standing in for Jamie Heaslip.

“He gives us both options,” Gatland said. “He likes playing No 8 and we know he can play No 6 as well. So we’ll probably look at him at that position [eight] to start the tour and knowing we’ve got the flexibility to play him at No 6 as well.

“With a few other players we can move that back row around and look at combinations.

“It’s a nice position to be in because we’ve got that flexibility so people aren’t just pigeon-holed into being a Nos 6, 7 or 8. They can cover different roles for us.”

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