Mr Gatland returned to the Island yesterday for his third visit of 2021 ahead of the invitational rugby side’s ten-day training camp in June.
Although he stressed the importance of Covid-19 protocols in making sure the visit did not bring any risks to the Island, Mr Gatland said the intention was for members of the Lions party to be able to mix their training with an enjoyment of what Jersey had to offer.
During the latter stages of the trip, expected to conclude around 24 June, Mr Gatland said he saw more opportunity for mixing safely with locals and engaging in some team-bonding activity.
Open training sessions involving young Islanders and social evenings hosted by Jersey Reds are likely features for the schedule, as well as the chance to enjoy some sea-swimming, fishing, golf or boat trips.
He said: ‘There’s a dinner that’s being organised. We want to have some open training sessions where people can come along. Hopefully we can get out into the community later in that first week, into the second, with players being able to have a look round the Island.’
And the New Zealander, who will lead the Lions for a third time on the summer tour to take on World Cup winners South Africa, said there was potential for other teams to follow in the Lions’ steps.
‘If this is successful, then I think you could be targeting the [New Zealand] All Blacks or club rugby sides,’ he said. ‘If you get the facilities right, and you put things on, and people come and rave about the place, you’ll get those chances.
‘It’s not just about rugby but promoting sport more widely. I think a number of sports could look at Jersey as a potential destination and give their athletes the experience of getting out of the UK and training in a different environment with excellent facilities.’
Mr Gatland and three of his four assistant coaches are making a two-day trip to discuss which players may be selected and to finalise preparations, including with the Lions’ chosen hotel – the Radisson Blu – and the new high-performance sports facility Strive.
A party of around 80 people, including players, coaches and
support staff, are due to arrive on 14 June.
Mr Gatland said that testing would be important to ensure any Covid risks were minimised.
‘We don’t think the Island would be a risk to us – it’s more that we could be a risk to the Island,’ he said.
‘Everyone will be taking three lateral-flow tests weekly, as well as PCR tests [for arriving passengers]. If anything, we’ll be a bit over-cautious during the first week.’
Asked at a press conference about having visited other possible locations, including Guernsey, for the training camp, Mr Gatland said he did not wish to get involved in Island politics, but emphasised the different reactions.
‘There’s no doubt the response from Jersey and the people of Jersey was a massive factor,’ he said.
‘The last thing we wanted to do was go anywhere where there was any negativity about us being there.
‘I fully understand the people of Guernsey’s reaction and they’ve
done a brilliant job of handling Covid, but it’s important for us to go somewhere we’re going to be 100% welcome and make a positive impact and be able to engage with the community.
‘If people are still talking about that [the issues with Guernsey], then it’s a little bit narrow-minded – let’s move on.’