The British and Irish Lions may name their head coach for next year’s tour of Australia as late as September as talks continue with front-runner Warren Gatland and the Welsh Rugby Union, tour manager Andy Irvine said.
The Lions postponed an appointment last month after Gatland, who led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semifinals, broke both heels in a fall. Negotiations are continuing and it may only happen in August or September, Irvine, a former Lions and Scotland full-back, told reporters in Hong Kong today.
“A lot will depend on the extent of Gatland’s injuries,” he said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll be fit.”
The Lions, a combination of players from the England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales national squads, will face the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1, 2013, in their first visit to the city as rugby union tries to expand into Asia. Local or other Asian players may be invited into the Barbarians squad if they meet the standard, Lions manager and former Wales forward Derek Quinnell said.
While the Lions and the Barbarians will strive to play entertaining rugby, the Hong Kong match will be taken as seriously as the three Test matches against Australia as players compete for starting places against the Wallabies, said Lions Chairman Gerald Davies.
Hong Kong stages the premier competition on the International Rugby Board’s seven-a-side world series circuit each year and twice hosted Bledisloe Cup matches between Australia and New Zealand, in 2008 and 2010.
“It’s not an exhibition match, we won’t be taking any prisoners,” said Irvine, a three-time Lions tourist in the 1970s and 80s. “It’s vital that we get off to a good start.”
The Lions, who typically tour every four years for Test series in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, may look beyond their traditional opponents as they try to boost their brand and the sport’s growth. They have been in talks with Argentina and will consider other destinations after their 2017 visit to New Zealand, Irvine said.
Former Australian captain John Eales, who led the Wallabies to a 2-1 series win against the Lions in 2001, said that facing them is the next-best thing to playing at the World Cup in a rugby career.
While the Hong Kong match will provide the Lions with good preparation for the matches in Australia, the Australian players will have just been through a “tough” Super Rugby competition and won’t have had any warm-up Tests, Eales said. That will give the Lions a “distinct” advantage, he added.
“We’ll be going in cold,” said Eales.
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