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Gatland to Lions: Do not hold back

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Sportal.co.nz     14 May 2013     Getty Images

As the 37-man Lions squad to tour Australia gathered in London on Monday for routine medical assessments, head coach Gatland - who also coaches Wales - revealed his message to those involved in big games with their clubs over the next fortnight.

Many of Gatland's squad will play in either the Premiership final – to be contested by Northampton and Leicester – or the Pro12 final, which will see Leinster and Ulster do battle.

And although the New Zealander – who is hoping to guide the Lions to their first series victory since a 2-1 triumph in South Africa in 1997 – said he is concerned about his stars getting injured, he has told them to go all out.

"It's tough for the players in terms of they know a few days after a big game they are on the plane," Gatland said.

"There's a bit of trepidation about not picking up injuries. But if you go in with that attitude and try and look after yourself there is more chance of picking up an injury.

"So the advice to those players is to go hell for leather. It should be a good battle between two forward packs in the [Premiership] final.

"You watch them hoping to see good-quality rugby and hoping that those players don't pick up any injuries but in the back of your mind you have to be prepared for that."

The Lions, who will be captained by Welshman Sam Warburton, begin their tour with a match against the Barbarians - an international team made up of a mix of players from different countries - in Hong Kong on June 1.

More warm-up fixtures against Western Force, Queensland Reds, a combined NSW-QLD Country team, New South Wales Waratahs and ACT Brumbies will follow before the first Test against Australia takes place in Brisbane on June 22.

Gatland said his players not involved in finals would be at an advantage in the race for a spot in the first Test and urged them to make the most of the opportunity.

"The first three-and-a-half weeks will be about preparation for the first Test," he said.

"The players that prepare for that first game [in Hong Kong] are going to have the biggest advantage on tour.

"They are the players not involved in the finals so they are going to have the best preparation in the next couple of weeks.

"The players coming back from finals are going to be at a disadvantage because of their lack of preparation time.

"So the team that plays the Barbarians should be in reasonable shape in terms of their preparations in the next couple of weeks."