Gatland ready to 'turn back the clock' for Springbok face-off

INTERVIEW: The triumphant 1974 British and Irish Lions can inspire Warren Gatland's current squad of Wales players ahead of their mouth-watering clash with South Africa.

Gatland is preparing his side to face the back-to-back World Champions on June 22 at Twickenham in their first match since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris last year.

And it will be exactly 50 years to the day since the Lions took a 2-0 lead in their four-Test series against the Springboks, winning 28-9 in Pretoria.

The Lions team that day contained six starting Welshmen, all of whom earned legendary status as part of a second successful tour in a row and whose feats continue to inspire.

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"The date of June 22 1974 is something that we can talk to the players about before the game," said Gatland.

"Perhaps the South Africans will talk about it too.

"It is important to recognise those that have gone before when it comes to the history of the game

"And particularly from during a time when Wales was blessed with some absolute legends of the game who had such a significant impact on those performances and the results that we remember to this day.

"We have lost a few legends of the game recently, but what that B&I Lions team achieved in 1974, carrying on from the winning 1971 tour of New Zealand was quite remarkable.

"And as a Kiwi myself and Rassie [Erasmus] as a South African, those are things you don't forget and you understand the history attached to them in terms of what great teams have gone there to play in the past and what impact they had on the game."

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Gatland knows only too well just how important the Lions are to the game, not only for the home nations and their fans, but to the teams they play every 12 years.

And as a former Lions head coach who was in charge during the last tour to South Africa in 2021, he knows exactly what will be in store for his Welsh team in June and July.

It also brings with it another chance to test himself against opposite number Rassie Erasmus whose antics during the 2021 tour made sure Gatland was sorely tested on and off the pitch.

But the Wales boss considers it water under the bridge and is genuinely excited about locking horns with Erasmus once more and trying to return to winning ways.

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"There were a lot of issues that happened that were disappointing with South Africa and the Lions," added Gatland.

"But both of us have got to be big enough to put those things behind you and look forward to a massive challenge.

"There is no doubt what Rassie has achieved in the game has been exceptional and what he's done with South Africa has been outstanding.

"We've had a great rivalry because previous to losing to them in 2019 and the World Cup semifinal which was a close game, we'd had some success against South Africa, so it is a great rivalry.

"For us, it is a massive challenge against a physical South Africa team and I get a buzz about the bigger the challenge.

"It really does drive me and excite me, so I am looking forward to the game and then catching up with Rassie afterwards."

By Dean Wilson