HEAD COACH Warren Gatland is expected to draft as many as six extra players onto the British and Irish Lions tour next week.
The Lions’ reinforcements would be primed to take seats on the bench in Tuesday’s Waikato clash against the Chiefs, to ease the pressure on the tourists’ Test match 23.
The three-Test series against New Zealand starts a week today on June 24, and Tuesday’s clash with Waikato Chiefs represents a heavy burden following today’s encounter with Maori All Blacks in Rotorua.
Gatland had initially raised the idea of adding a clutch of players to his Lions squad ahead of the Chiefs encounter back in September.
Now the head coach is understood to be ready to do just that, with Wales currently in New Zealand and Scotland touring Australia and Fiji.
Ireland are in Japan, while England’s Argentina Test series ends today.
The Lions bolstered their squad late on in Australia in 2013, with call-up Alex Corbisiero claiming a try as the tourists stole a series win in the third Test.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Thursday called the Lions’ plans to add to their ranks, hinting at a potential disconnect between midweek and Saturday line-ups.
But the Lions are confident they will maintain a tight-knit group, even if they do call for reinforcements.
“I think he is about to bring a few extra players out to give himself the ability to play with two squads,” said All Blacks boss Hansen.
“He’s at the stage where he wants to do that.
“I guess he will bring them out from the UK.”
Assistant coach Steve Borthwick insisted yesterday, however, that the Lions currently boast an extremely focused and motivated squad.
“I think I’ve been hugely impressed by the leadership of the players, all the players, in how close this group is,” said Borthwick. “All the players have worked hard to ensure it’s a tight, socially cohesive group.”
Influential fly-half Owen Farrell remains a serious injury doubt ahead of the first All Blacks Test.
The England star has suffered a quadriceps strain and is now in a race against time to be ready to start the Test series.
Borthwick, however, refused to be drawn on Farrell’s latest status.
“He didn’t train (yesterday), he’s had a grade one muscle strain,” said Borthwick of Farrell’s injury. “The medical team will take great care of him. Hopefully he’ll be back on the field as soon as possible.
“When exactly it happened, I can’t tell you. It was felt (Thursday), dealt with immediately, and he went into recovery protocols straight away.”
Asked if seven to 10 days would be a reasonable time frame for Farrell’s recovery, Borthwick said: “I certainly don’t go by that.
“I listen to our medical team who are far more qualified than I am. He’ll be back as quickly as he’s fit and able.”