The New Zealander has not ruled himself out of leading a fourth tour in 2025 but believes changes must be made to the schedule in order to satisfy expectation.
“It’s just about the Lions talking to the clubs and unions about having that adequate preparation time to go on a tour,” he said.
“You are playing away from home, normally with a lot of travel. You are putting a team together in such a short period of time and there’s a lot of expectation to win a series.
“As the Lions, when you’re putting together the best players from the northern hemisphere, we get less preparation time than the national teams do when they go on their own tours. It’s a common theme. I’ve been continually saying it.
“Hopefully in the next six months they can iron that out and we can get the schedule for four years’ time tidied up in terms of when finals are on, so that you can get the whole squad together for a couple of weeks before you go on tour.
“That would make a lot of difference in terms of helping preparation.”
The Lions deservedly led 10-6 at half-time in Cape Town but the Springboks battled back after the break before veteran fly-half Morne Steyn – who kicked the decisive penalty of the 2009 series – remarkably repeated the feat with less than two minutes to go.
Gatland previously masterminded a 2013 tour win in Australia and a 2017 draw in his native New Zealand, with the Lions pencilled in to return to the former in four years.
Speaking about his own future, the 57-year-old said: “In terms of [my] involvement, there’s a lot of water under the bridge in four years. A lot of things can happen in that time.
“I’ve loved my time with the Lions.”
The Lions’ place on the rugby calendar has already been the subject of much debate.
This year’s tour – which suffered further complications due to coronavirus restrictions – was squeezed from six weeks to five, with the tourists playing one game fewer in the host country.
Rugby’s current global schedule only covers up until the end of 2023 and Gatland has called on the game’s powerbrokers to protect the “incredibly unique” place of Lions tours, feeling only the World Cup can match them as a spectacle.
“If you talk to anyone, the players that are involved – either the Lions players or anyone from the southern hemisphere – there’s two events in the calendar that happen every four years: the Lions and the World Cup,” he said.
“Those are the two things that players want to be a part of.
“Normal tours generate a huge amount of financial reward to the southern hemisphere teams, but it’s special and it’s unique.
“It’s something we need to preserve on the calendar, a very important part of the cycle.
“We know the Rugby Championship, the Six Nations and they’re yearly; these things [World Cups and Lions tours] are biennial on a four-yearly cycle [which] is extraordinary and incredibly unique and special.”
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