AUCKLAND (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland is poised to call in up to six extra players for the final three weeks of their tour of New Zealand to lessen the burden on the team he expects to play the tests, British media say.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had said on Thursday that he suspected Gatland was about to expand his squad in order to give him the opportunity to run two separate teams for the crunch end of the tour.
British media said on Friday that Gatland, who had suggested last year he would expand his squad while in New Zealand, was waiting until after the tests in the southern hemisphere this weekend before he made the announcement.
Wales beat Tonga 24-7 in Auckland on Friday, while Scotland play Australia in Sydney on Saturday. Ireland are in Japan.
England are in Argentina but due to time zones, any of their players would probably not arrive in New Zealand before Tuesday.
Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg has already had to return home after he broke his cheekbone in an accidental collision with teammate Conor Murray, while lock Courtney Lawes failed concussion checks against the Otago Highlanders on Tuesday.
England flyhalf Owen Farrell has also suffered a quadriceps strain and could be in danger of missing the first test against the All Blacks next Saturday.
The decision would give Gatland a squad of 46, allowing him to run two separate teams with the new players likely to play in the midweek team against the Waikato Chiefs on Tuesday and Wellington Hurricanes the following week.
Gatland had said several times that he did not want to split the squad into midweek and test teams because history had shown it caused resentment among players not considered for the internationals.
The current tour, however, has shown a clear distinction in the performance level between the midweek and weekend teams, with the side to play the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua on Saturday likely to run out for the first test on June 24.
“There is a clear difference between their two teams, their Wednesday team and their Saturday team,” Hansen said on Thursday. “I think he’s about to bring a few more extra players out to give him the ability to play two squads.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Mark Heinrich