Gatland demands top-class opposition

by staff

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has called on his Australian counterpart Robbie Deans to allow his players to line-up for their Super Rugby teams against the elite tourists later this year.

The Lions are due to face Australia's five Super Rugby teams - New South Wales Waratahs, Queensland Reds, Melbourne Rebels, ACT Brumbies and Western Force - during their 10-game, six-week tour with all but one of those games falling before the start of their eagerly-awaited three-Test series against the Wallabies.

On their last visit Down Under in 2001, the Lions outclassed a Western Australia XV 116-10 and a Queensland President's XV 83-6 before eventually losing the Test series 2-1 and Gatland is eager to avoid any such mis-matches this time around ahead of the first Test showdown in Brisbane on June 22.

"It's all about preparing for the Test matches so the harder the games are the better prepared we're going to be," Gatland told journalists in Melbourne, where the Lions play the Rebels and the second Test.

"If Robbie will let as many of the Wallabies play in those warm up games, that will help us prepare. We found in South Africa we were undefeated in the warm-up games but, because there wasn't a lot of the South African players playing, we weren't tested as well as we could have been."

Winning the Test series will be particularly important for Gatland whose Wales side have suffered repeatedly at the hands of Australia of late. They lost five times to the Wallabies in 2012 to add to their loss in the 2011 World Cup bronze medal match. The most recent of those losses was sealed by a last-gasp try from Kurtley Beale at the Millennium Stadium in December that relieved some of the pressure that had been building on Deans throughout the year.

"I said to him [Deans] after the last game we were involved in, with Wales and Australia, 'You're killing me at the moment, winning in the last minute'," Gatland said. "The unfortunate thing for Australia is probably not beating New Zealand as regularly as they would like and that puts him under a huge amount of pressure."