• Home
  • /
  • Rugby
  • /
  • Why It's Time We Changed Our Tune On Warren Gatland

Why It's Time We Changed Our Tune On Warren Gatland

Why It's Time We Changed Our Tune On Warren Gatland
By Gavin Cooney
Share this article

Paul O'Connell just couldn't work Warren Gatland out.

Ahead of the 2013 Lions tour, with O'Connell presumably locked down for selection at second-row on what would be his final tour, O'Connell barely got a word out of the head coach once the squad landed in Australia, having maintained a constant stream of communication in the training camp beforehand. This is from O'Connell's book:

He came over to me one day and I swear he was trying to do a job on me mentally, for the next time Wales played Ireland. Mind games were part of what he brought to the table and his track record showed he was incredibly good at playing them.

"Have you noticed how incredibly fit the Welsh boys are?

Then, ahead of the first Test:

"Just to let you know, Alun-Wyn will be playing in the Test. So it's between you and Geoff for the other second-row position".

That was the full extent of the conversation.

O'Connell got the nod.

*****

So what to make of Warren Gatland?

Advertisement

The words of O'Connell are instructive, but first, let's turn our minds back to four years ago.

Four years ago, he sent a nation and Liveline into overdrive four years ago, with his team selection for the third and decisive Lions Test against Australia.

The culling of O'Driscoll from the entire 23, having spent dressing room rallying calls and hotel debriefings telling everyone how much O'Driscoll deserved a victorious Lions tour, felt gratuitous, and the drafting in of Jonathan Davies to make it four Welsh players in the back five was depicted as Gatland merely picking his favourites, with a return to Wales imminent after the tour.

Advertisement

While it was fine for Irish fans to feel aggrieved for O'Driscoll, Gatland took an unfair level of criticism, with some of it descending into some kind of perceived anti-Irishness, or a long-planned reprisal against the IRFU. This was nonsense, and Gatland was utterly vindicated by the result.

He was unabashed in stating that he took charge of the Lions to win a Test series, and that's exactly what he did. The first half of the O'Connell anecdote is evidence of that: a refusal to bow to reputation when matters as important as victory is on the line.

And four years on, Gatland has done it again This time, however, the fall-guys are largely Welsh. Gatland has picked on form, and a has selected a side to win. Firstly, Sam Warburton - the tour captain - doesn't make the starting side, with Peter O'Mahony captaining the side in one of the biggest Irish success stories of the year.

Advertisement
Recommended

There are other notable victims: Leigh Halfpenny, considered an untouchable, and Gatland's Man of the Series four years ago, is gone for Liam Williams. George North, another of Gatland's supposed Golden Boys, is out for Elliot Daly. Halfpenny has at least made the bench, North is not involved at all.

Of the other marginal calls, Owen Farrell deserves his place over Johnny Sexton, while Alun-Wyn Jones' selection over Maro Itoje makes pragmatic sense. Itoje's offering from the bench is more than Jones' could offer, while Itoje can also cover at flanker. Wyn-Jones, meanwhile, gave a glimpse of why he has been included in a six-minute cameo on Tuesday against the Chiefs.

He got involved in a bit of scrap, and then tweaked the line-out strategy, instructing Rory Best to throw to Justin Tipuric, instead of to him or Iain Henderson. The resulting shove, with two second-rows rooted to the ground, ended with Henderson crashing over. As a trio of Chiefs defenders desperately clung on, Henderson was compensated with a penalty try.

Advertisement

For all of Itoje's qualities, Wyn-Jones' experience and leadership will be critical in Auckland.

As for the "mind games" that Gatland gets himself wrapped up in - as he undoubtedly did in the interaction with O'Connell mentioned above -  he has constantly proven himself to be a man of his word. He kept his word with O'Connell four years ago, and he has done so again this time around.

While he puts the occasional 'the Irish players hate the Welsh players the most' nonsense out there, Gatland has been notable on this tour for saying exactly what he intended to do.

Advertisement

He said there was no divide in the squad, despite the fact that the touring party seemed cleaved into weekend and midweek team. Yet Elliot Daly and Liam Williams have made the Test team, mainly for their performance against the Chiefs on Tuesday.

He promised that the gameplan would not be solely restricted to the rigid boshing of Warrenball, and that he encourages his players to counter-attack into the space in front of them. He has tweaked his back three to fulfill that promise: Liam Williams scorched over 100 metres worth of gained Earth against the Chiefs, bringing his wingers into play to a far greater degree than any other full-back on the tour thus far.

When hurled with righteous fury for calling up six players mid-tour, based on their geography more so than their quality, Gatland unabashedly admitted that proximity was the reason, because he is employed to win the Test series. This merely formalised a process that has been happening for years.

As for the idea he was devaluing the Lions by doing so: the moment the Lions place anything ahead of winning is the moment it will be diminished beyond repair. The tour organisers, with their absurd ten-game schedule, punctuated by myriad sponsors' fulfillments, are far guiltier of tarnishing the concept.

Ultimately, Warren Gatland will be judged on the results against New Zealand.

Warren Gatland's loyalty is to winning.

That's how he would like to be understood.

See Also: Confirmed: Peter O'Mahony Captains The Lions For The First Test Against New Zealand

Join The Monday Club Have a tip or something brilliant you wanted to share on? We're looking for loyal Balls readers free-to-join members club where top tipsters can win prizes and Balls merchandise

Processing your request...

You are subscribed now!

Share this article

Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved. Developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com

Advertisement