Lions’ tour boss John Spencer targets stronger support from clubs for future tours

New Zealand captain Kieran Read with British and Irish Lions'  captain Sam Warburton after the third Test draw in Auckland. Picture: David Davies/PA
New Zealand captain Kieran Read with British and Irish Lions' captain Sam Warburton after the third Test draw in Auckland. Picture: David Davies/PA
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JOHN SPENCER has insisted the British and Irish Lions would have won their Test series in New Zealand with just one more week’s preparation.

The Lions’ 2017 tour manager is determined to see the famed touring outfit receive extra preparation time for future tours.

Warren Gatland’s squad pulled off a drawn series against the back-to-back world champion All Blacks against all odds, having flown out to New Zealand just two days after the Premiership and PRO12 play-off finals.

The Lions opened their tour with a patchy 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians just three days after arriving in New Zealand, but shrugged of all those problems to win the second All Blacks Test 24-21, and draw the third 15-15.

Yorkshireman Spencer, the former England captain who played on the last Lions trip to win a Test series there in 1971, insists the Lions are making good progress on convincing rugby’s global administrators to add an extra week’s preparation to future Lions tours, but also conceded another week this summer could have made all the difference against New Zealand.

Asked if the Lions would have won the All Blacks series with an extra week’s preparation, Spencer replied: “My honest opinion is yes; the preparation is extremely important.

TEAMWORK: Warren Gatland has been hailed as the world's best head coach by British and Irish Lions tour manager John Spencer. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

TEAMWORK: Warren Gatland has been hailed as the world's best head coach by British and Irish Lions tour manager John Spencer. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

“But I think we’re making very positive steps already, to talk about and rectify that situation.

“I’ve received incredible cooperation from the board on that, and there are four of us who are ex-Lions there who know about the intensity and preparation.

“What I would say is that gold medals are won on the training pitch a long time before they are won on the match pitch.”

The Lions’ thrilling 15-15 draw in Auckland on Saturday night could not stop New Zealand extending their unbeaten run at Eden Park to 40 games, but both teams still come out of the series with some sense of satisfaction.

The players have now put the Lions in a very special place; we don’t want to lose that. The Lions board are very receptive to our suggestions, from myself and the previous two tour managers.

John Spencer

The Lions only ever led New Zealand for three minutes across the entire three-Test series, but still managed to emerge with a share of the spoils.

Captains Kieran Read and Sam Warburton were jointly presented with the series trophy, leading to a set of awkward-looking post-match shots.

The Lions have still only ever won one series in New Zealand – the 1971 tour of which Spencer was a part – but head coach Gatland will depart the Land of the Long White Cloud with reputations seriously enhanced.

Tour manager Spencer, also president of Wharfedale RUFC, has already hit out at the English clubs body Premiership Rugby, warning that the Lions could embark on future trips without any England players if extra preparation times are not agreed.

The global calendar to run after the 2019 World Cup still remains to be finalised, and the Lions are itching to sit round a table with all the game’s top decision-makers.

Spencer refused to add to his strong comments on the Lions’ future on Sunday however, when wrapping up the 2017 tour in a review press conference.

“I’ve said plenty on that particular topic,” said Spencer, of the Lions’ future planning.

“I don’t particularly want to say any more because I don’t want to detract from what the guys achieved. But we all need to sit down, all the stakeholders. And surely it’s not beyond the wit of man to come to some sensible agreement just for a couple of weeks every four years.

“The players have now put the Lions in a very special place; we don’t want to lose that. The Lions board are very receptive to our suggestions, from myself and the previous two tour managers.

“I think that everyone has now discussed it and we’ve agreed we need to sit down, talk about it, and talk about it in a friendly and positive way.

“There are good signs there’s a positive way forward.”

Regardless of the debate about preparations for future Lions tours, Spencer was quick to heap praise on Gatland, for his achievements back in his homeland.

The All Blacks have already admitted the 53-year-old is on their list of targets as a potential replacement for head coach Steve Hansen, who will step down after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Gatland’s Wales contract also expires after the next World Cup, leading Spencer to tip the former Ireland and Wasps boss to field a glut of coaching offers in two years’ time.

“Set a Kiwi to catch a Kiwi,” said Spencer, assessing Gatland’s job as Lions boss on the 2017 tour.

“You have to be a very shrewd coach to come to New Zealand and achieve what the players achieved. I will tell you without doubt I think Warren Gatland is the best head coach in the world.”

Spencer insisted Gatland will be inundated with job offers to follow his Wales tenure.

“Never say never about the Lions, but I think that a lot will happen in the next four years,” said Spencer. “Warren will be in very big demand all over the world. His achievements on this tour have opened up the future for him.”