On Tuesday, the news the world was waiting for broke at last. Warren Gatland is to be Lions coach. That sneaky fiver we put on Declan Kidney last week is lost to the wild. Damn!
It was a no brainer of a decision, for obvious reasons, and Warren’s management style (grumpy, honest, occasionally confrontational) should translate well to the unique circumstances of a Lions tour. It’s a ridiculously tough gig: cobble together the best from four nations used to beating the tar out of each other, hope they’ve something left in the tank after an exhausting season, somehow keep a squad of 36 players happy, in the two training sessions you have try and establish lineout calls, backs moves and the rest of it, hope you don’t get too many injuries (you will) and turn over one of the top three nations in their own back yard. Easy. Here’s some pitfalls he should be looking to avoid.
The Austin Healy Factor
Being a great Lion is as much about being a good tourist as a good player. You have to be a jolly good fellow willing to row in with the midweekers if that’s what Wazza’s asking of you, and bloody well not complain about it, even though you’re 25,000 miles from home and Alun Wyn Jones is being picked ahead of you.
Power of Four: step forward Chris Robshaw. Not the best of the backrowers available, but just the sort of bloody fine chap to put up a manly show with the dirt trackers and keep a stiff upper lip. He’ll be this tour’s Alan Quinlan, minus the gouging.
Power of None: headbangers like Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton would irritate the more cultured Lions, and the safety valve of flouncing off to the Saracens Lions for a fat cheque isn’t available. They can take a back seat for this one.
Pick on form, but not too much
Form is important, and Geech made sure he only had players who were finishing the season strongly on the last tour – hence Keith Earls. But he leaned a little too much on form – so much so that he failed to notice he had two beanpoles in the second row and a midget at hooker. The Lions need a good beefy pack and it was only when Geech dialled +44-SHAWSY that the Lions could go toe to toe with the bruising Saffer forwards.
Power of Four: Richie Gray can be the new Shawsy. Go on, give us a hug, Grayser. And Rory Best, your Nordie farmer ruck-smashing ballast is needed in the front row.
Power of None: sorry Crofty, but this is a man’s job.
Don’t let the Media Pick the Team
It’s the Lions, and we all want them to win, but in truth that’s only of secondary importance. The primary objective is that your nation has the highest representation on the team, and that vast swathes of time be spent bickering and carping over selection bias (hey, we Irish are especially good at that one). Woodward’s goose was cooked long in advance of the second test in 2005, but we lost any respect we had for him when he simply rolled over and allowed the Welsh media to pick Henson, Williams and all those other Valleysmen who slipped off one tackle after another as Dan Carter ran rings around them. Everyone will be haranguing Wazza into picking their fellows, but he must rise above all that nonsense and get the best team on the park. Oh, and you know the way Stephen Jones wants Ryan Jones to be captain – ignore him, he’s mad.
Power of Four: all the Welsh chaps have a natural advantage in that Wazza has coached them all and knows how to utilise them. Fourteen Welshmen and BOD has a good ring to it.
Power of None: The Welsh hate the Irish more than anyone, says Wazza. And he’s still bitter about that IRFU sacking back in the day. Scratch BOD out on second thoughts. Fourteen Welsh plus Tuilagi. That’s better.
Keep the Hokeyness to a Minimum
Yes, we all know the Lions used to travel by boat. Yes, they drank a lot of beer. Yes, the players know it’s the pinnacle of the game. And yes, it’s a throwback to the days when jerseys were made of cotton and men were men. Miles, we need another insert with slow-mo black and white footage over James Blunt of the 99 call and when Jeremy Guscott was thin enough to drop a goal!
But more time spent practicing catching and passing and less stitching the tears of Sir Anthony O’Reilly into the jersey will give the Lions a better chance of beating the Aussies. Keep it professional, Wazza, and, anyway, telling George North he needs to live up to the feats of Ugo Monye might not be the best preparation for facing James O’Connor.
Power of Four: ice-man Ronan O’Gara wouldn’t be seen dead blubbing into a jersey (unless it was a Cork Con one). And he probably thinks the Lions-hype is manufactured Sky nonsense. Good for one last tour, then.
Power of None: Blubber-merchants John Hayes, Jerry Flannery and Phil Vickery have retired, so we should be safe.