WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says he will avoid the mistakes of predecessor and compatriot Graham Henry by keeping an open mind on selection ahead of the three-test series against the All Blacks.
New Zealand-born Gatland told a news conference in Auckland on Thursday that Henry "lost half of the team on day one" when he coached the 2001 Lions in Australia by indicating at the start of the tour that he had already chosen his test team.
Gatland said he would give every player in his 41-man squad the chance to stake a claim to test selection in the six matches of the tour which precede the first test against New Zealand on June 24. He said he expected to be in a position to give an indication of his test lineup by the June 17 match against the New Zealand Maori.
Gatland said team harmony was paramount, and that depended on players being given a fair chance to play themselves into test contention.
"Obviously the whole focus is on the test matches but having been involved in 2013 and having spoken to people in the past... it's about giving everyone an opportunity and keeping harmony in the squad," Gatland said.
"I know the guys who were involved with Graham Henry in 2001 — he lost half the team on day one because he went 'you guys over here, and you guys over there' and the players knew straight away 'well, that's the test side and we're just making up the numbers.'"
Gatland, who guided the Lions on a winning tour to Australia in 2013, said it was important for players to keep "putting themselves in the shop window" for selection.
Henry, who returned to New Zealand and went on to guide the All Blacks to Rugby World Cup victory in 2011, has recently said he believes he was not sufficiently experienced or prepared to coach the Lions when he took the job in 2001 after a successful tenure as head coach of Wales.
The 2001 Lions lost the test series to Australia on a tour which ended in acrimony and internal division.
The Lions have only won one of their 11 previous tours to New Zealand, claiming the 1971 test series 2-1. They will kick off a 10-match tour with a match against the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on Saturday.