Vital to preserve history and tradition of Lions - Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland wants fans to have a say on proposed changes to Lions tours
Warren Gatland wants fans to have a say on proposed changes to Lions tours

Warren Gatland believes any decision to condense future British and Irish Lions tours need to be consulted with everyone involved with it including the fans.

Proposals have been made to reduce the number of games to eight or even five from existing 10 to align the high profile tournament with the global calendar that begins from 2020.

Gatland, who coached the Lions to a successful 2013 tour of Australia and is again in charge of the team for the tour of New Zealand in June believes reducing the number of games will hamper the preparation of the team.

With over 20,000 fans around the world expected to travel to New Zealand to witness the contest, Gatland urged the decision makers to consult everyone including the spectators before they come to a conclusion.

"On any decisions on future tours there's a lot of people that need to be consulted," said Gatland, who was speaking on behalf of Land Rover, a principal partner of the British and Irish Lions.

"Who is making the decisions, potentially for Lions tours to be cut down on numbers? There are a lot of stakeholders, ex-players, the media, fans, sponsors who need to be consulted about the Lions and how you value it.

"What reason are the decisions being made for? Is it for personal interest? Is it for the betterment of the game and fulfilling the Lions as a tradition and an identity?

"The biggest issue we have at the moment is not about the number of games, it's about preparation.

"If you cut the Lions to eight games and we still turn up in New Zealand with no training in the UK or Ireland as a full squad, and then have limited time in New Zealand before the first match, what have you actually achieved? You've not achieved anything.

"It's an incredibly special brand and it needs to be protected. The potential for it to grow is enormous and it should be something we savour as a brand and an identity.

"And every four years we should do as much as we possibly can to promote the Lions and continue the history and the tradition that the Lions have."

Former British and Irish Lions captains Martin Johnson, Gavin Hastings and Brian O'Driscoll have backed Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones over Dylan Hartley to lead the squad during the upcoming tour of New Zealand.

With Hartley replaced in the 46th minute during the recently concluded Six Nations encounter between England and Wales, questions have been raised about his fitness but Gatland believes there is still time left for the Northampton Saints hooker to make amends and return to contention.

"He has been out for quite a while and he did well in the first game against France when you are pumped up and the adrenaline was going," he said.

"It was a pretty physical game against Wales so they made the change early. Now he has the chance to get some extra conditioning.

"He has not done anything wrong in this campaign so far and is still getting up to game speed. It's hard to have six weeks off and a break and come into Test match rugby."

While Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg and England wing Elliot Daly have been impressive so far in the opening two rounds of Six Nations tournament, Gatland believes England international Maro Itoje's transformation from second to back-row has not been smooth.

"Maro has had a couple of games at flanker. Is he a better second row? He has done all right in the back row, but is he more potent or more dangerous as a second row?" Gatland said.

"It depends on how he plays over the next couple of weeks, whether he continues to play there and what happens when he goes back to Saracens.

"It does take a little bit of time to get up to speed when you are playing in the back row and he has obviously adjusted to it pretty well."