Lions' choirmaster Gatland says harmony key for rugby win


Wellington (AFP)

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says maintaining team harmony is a priority as he seeks to engineer a historic Test series win over the world champion All Blacks.

Gatland, who organised choir practice to help players bond before they set off for New Zealand, said he needed to avoid internal divisions in his 41-man squad.

On past tours, players from the composite team have split along national lines, forming cliques from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

They have also been informally separated into Test players and those who are regarded as second stringers destined to appear only in mid-week tour matches.

Gatland said all his players would be treated equally and he did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Graham Henry-coached tour of Australia in 2001, which became riven by tensions.

"It's about giving everyone an opportunity and keeping harmony within the squad, that's paramount for these guys at the moment," the New Zealander said.

"I know from the players 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'. The players knew straight away, 'well, that's the Test side and we're just making up the numbers'."

Gatland said he would not play favourites when it came to Test selection.

"I think it's important that these guys feel they're putting themselves in the shop window, that they've got a chance to prove themselves and with a little bit of luck they're in contention for the Test," he said.

Gatland, a former All Black hooker, personally witnessed the impact of internal ructions on the Lions when he played against them for provincial side Waikato in 1993.

Many of the Lions' second stringers, disheartened by their lack of Test prospects, had gone into party mode, drinking heavily and treating the tour as a holiday.

The result was a 38-10 humiliation for the Lions, with Gatland scoring one of Waikato's five tries.