British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says he and his coaching staff don’t have any “preconceived ideas” about the Test team that will face the Springboks next month.
Gatland was speaking after naming the 23-man Lions squad to face Japan in the 1886 Cup match in Edinburgh on Saturday.
The match will act as the team’s final warm-up before they embark on their tour of South Africa, giving a number of players an opportunity to stake an early claim to start in the first Test against the Springboks in a month’s time.
This is also considering that the Lions are currently without their players who will be involved in this weekend’s Premiership final, where the Exeter Chiefs will face Harlequins at Twickenham.
“I think we’re a little hampered at the minute without the full squad,” Gatland explained. “You’d like to be able to mix and match, but you are thinking about certain combinations early on that helps with cohesion. When we picked the squad, there was some familiarity.
“We’ll need to mix and match over the next few games and it’ll be interesting to see how combinations go. We’re not fixed in our thoughts and we haven’t got preconceived ideas about the Test side. Players that play well will get that chance and that door is always open.
“It’s trying to be clear in our thoughts but not being closed off to possibilities. Someone will come through that a lot of people won’t expect and that’s the exciting part from the coaching aspect.”
Explaining his team selection for Saturday, when Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe will make his first appearance and eight of the 23 who faced New Zealand in 2017 return, Gatland said:
“It’s just a coincidence. I hadn’t even looked at the numbers of who started last time. We wanted to play a few of the Scottish boys because they’re at home. With a few of the Saracens boys and Exeter boys not available, it changes things a bit. It’s about putting out what we think is a strong side who can do a job for us.”
Photo: Andrew Cornaga/www.Photosport.nz