Warren Gatland leaves door open for fifth Lions tour: 'A lot can happen in four years'

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
A dejected Warren Gatland walks off the pitch - GETTY IMAGES
A dejected Warren Gatland walks off the pitch - GETTY IMAGES

Warren Gatland has left the door open to be involved in a fifth Lions tour after Morne Steyn once again secured the Springboks a 2-1 Test series victory.

Twelve years on from kicking the decisive penalty in the 2009 series - in which Gatland was an assistant coach - 37-year-old Steyn again held his nerve to kick a 78th-minute penalty in a nailbiting 19-16 victory.

That was scant justice for the Lions’ first-half dominance and they were left to rue their inability to convert more than Ken Owens’ try from four kicks to the corner, as head coach Gatland lamented afterwards. “At the highest level, you get one or two chances and a mistake is really costly,” Gatland said. “We missed one or two chances and they kind of get a lucky bounce and score a try against the run of play, and a couple of 50/50 calls probably didn't go our way.”

It was a devastating finish to a series that has required a huge sacrifice from the Lions players and staff who have been confined to a strict biosecure bubble for the past eight weeks. Gatland will now quarantine in an Auckland hotel room for the next 14 days and after a third successive tour as Lions head coach he says he will need all that thinking time before he returns to his day job as Waikato Chiefs boss.

“In terms of involvement, there’s a lot of water under the bridge in four years. A lot of things can happen in that time,” Gatland said. “I’ve loved my time with the Lions. It's something that I'll reflect on. I'm incredibly proud of my involvement and I've been very, very fortunate.

“And I think that time on my own will be a good chance to think what the next chapter of my life is going to be. I'm not someone who plans too far ahead, I'm a great believer in what will be will be. Other things will be on the horizon on the future, and other opportunities. What they will be I'm not sure. I haven't got any long-term plans, so it's just a bit of wait and see.”

The third Test did bring the curtain down on captain Alun Wyn Jones’ extraordinary run of playing in every Test for four consecutive series. Despite having recovered from a dislocated shoulder, the Wales second row seemed to accept that the Australia 2025 tour - when he will be 39 - may be a bridge too far.

“We were in it until the death and obviously had that opportunity at the end, but I’m just very proud of the bunch, very conscious of what we represent, what everything means but just obviously hugely disappointed,” Jones said. When asked what the Lions meant to him, Jones said, “it’s done now, so...” before his emotions got the better of him.

As well as the four kicks to the corner, Liam Williams missed an opportunity to put Josh Adams away while South Africa’s try, scored by Cheslin Kolbe, seemed to result from a knock-on by Jasper Wiese, although the officials allowed the score to stand. “I thought the referee had a good game, no complaints about that,” Gatland said. “[But] it's all about was it a knock-on [by Wiese]? They took one or two opportunities and we probably missed a couple, but there was no lack of effort. A 2-on-1 with Liam Williams and Josh Adams, he should have given the pass probably. You get one or two chances at this level and you've got to make the most of them because you've got to be clinical when they come around.”

Whoever is in charge for the next series, Gatland has urged the sport’s stakeholders to ensure the Lions retains its central place in the rugby calendar. The Lions’ tour schedule was reduced from 10 to eight games while Gatland did not have access to a significant portion of his squad for the preparation camp in Jersey. “I don’t think it’s anything different, it’s just about the Lions talking to the clubs and unions about having that adequate preparation time to go on a tour,” Gatland said.

“You are playing away from home, normally with a lot of travel and with a lot of expectation. You are putting a team together in such a short period of time and there’s a lot of expectation to win a series. As the Lions, when you’re putting together the best players from the northern hemisphere, we get less preparation time than the national teams do when they go on their own tours.

“It’s a common theme. I’ve been continually saying it. Hopefully in the next six months they can iron that out and we can get the schedule for four years’ time tidied up in terms of when finals are on, so that you can get the whole squad together for a couple of weeks before you go on tour. That would make a lot of difference in terms of helping preparation.”