Lions coach Warren Gatland visits Hong Kong ahead of tour
New Zealander visits potential training sites after a nine-day scouting mission to Australia
British & Irish Lions manager Warren Gatland and a nine-strong scouting party made a brief stopover in Hong Kong yesterday on their way back home from Australia, the destination of the 2013 tour this summer.
In Australia, they spent nine days visiting all the grounds on their nine-match tour schedule, including three tests against the Wallabies. Gatland and his team's whistle-stop trip to Hong Kong also involved visits to potential training grounds - Aberdeen Stadium, Hong Kong Football Club and So Kon Po.
The Lions head coach also had a look at Hong Kong Stadium, the venue of the June 1 clash against the Barbarians, and the verdict was "very impressive".
"We are making sure there are no surprises for us when we arrive on tour," Gatland said. "We are checking out everything from hotels to match venues and training grounds so that we can hit the ground running."
And getting off to a good start in Hong Kong will be the key to the Lions' bid of winning the series in Australia, said Gatland.
"We arrive in Hong Kong on May 28 and we will have our first full training session as a squad here," Gatland said.
"The first few days are going to be absolutely crucial. The week before there will be three finals including the Premiership and the Heineken Cup.
"Hong Kong will give me my first chance to look at the squad as a unit. This will be our first week together and it will be a very important few days. Also the players picked for the game against the Barbarians get the first chance to put their hands up for selection and to impress everyone. But the plan is to give everyone a game on the first three games on tour," Gatland added.
The HSBC-sponsored Lions are expected to bring a 38-strong player party on the 10-match, month-long tour, which ends on July 6 with the third and last test in Sydney.
Gatland and company arrived on Monday night and were feted by Hong Kong Rugby Football Union officials. "The diversity of this place is superb," said Gatland. "Hong Kong with its harbour and its excitement will be a fantastic opportunity to bring the squad together. I'm sure the players will enjoy it."
Gatland will get down to the business of squad selection during the upcoming Six Nations. He hinted at Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip as a potential tour captain. Heaslip is one of three Irishmen tipped to be in contention, with 2009 captain Paul O'Connell and 2005 captain Brian O'Driscoll, also in the running.