Notes for Warren

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.

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9 Comments

  1. You forgot “Wazza, you suck at mind games, everyone knows this. Leave it out.”

  2. Amiga500

     /  September 5, 2012

    ROG might be in tears after picking splinters out of his backside for weeks at Thomond by the time the tour wheels around!

  3. Ultra Sur

     /  September 5, 2012

    Radge – good call. You never know when you need a game winning up and under to midfield after a crucial game saving tackle and in such critical scenarios, the Iceman cometh to the fore.

    He’s got my vote.

    • Good to hear it Ultra. Plus it would be hilarious to see how English rugby fans would react to him being picked after last time. The campaign starts here!

      • Ultra Sur

         /  September 6, 2012

        It would be worth the airfare to Oz alone. Radge on the plane and Crofty at home – quality wumming.

  4. Gats is a combative Darwinist of a coach who’s all about competition and survival of the fittest. He’s also absolutely bull-headed when it comes to politics, i.e. his first ever Welsh team saw thirteen Ospreys players selected . He’ll pick whoever he wants – and he’ll give a lot of leeway to Welsh players – so I’ve no doubt he’ll alienate a whole rake of squad members.

    From my perspective, there are only two bolted-on test starters – Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts … maybe George North as well, although there’s serious competition from Visser and Bowe [who was outstanding on the last tour]. Richie Gray is by no means a definite starter, especially if he’s playing his club rugby in a crap team at Sale. Making the incredibly injury-prone Warburton captain would be a massive risk, because he’s not a durable player by any stretch of the imagination. You can’t wrap your captain in cotton wool.

    Gatland generates none of the inclusive, feel-good factor that was a hallmark of McGeechan’s teams in 1997 and 2009. Because he’s the reigning head coach of a successful team [rather than an emeritus coach of a fairly rubbish team, like Geech was with Scotland], there’s a huge possibility that it’ll turn into a redux of the 1977 tour – too many Welsh in the squad. Selection will be contentious, and if the 50/50s go to Welsh players, a lot of people won’t be happy.

    That’s not to say that Gatland isn’t the right coach for the job, but it’s a tough job, which is only toughened by the widely-held feeling [at least in the NH] that the Wobs are there for the taking.

    • We were discussing this very issue yesterday – we both agree with your premise that this year’s tour will be less ‘jolly hockeysticks’ than 2009.

      We’d be hesitant to pre-judge his selection too much though! His bullheadedness cuts both ways. By the same token, he might not mind upsetting some of his Welsh darlings too much. I remember in 2009, it was Gatty who fielded the question about leaving his Welsh captain Ryan Jones out of the squad, and he was pretty withering in his assessment of his form.

  5. Xyz

     /  September 6, 2012

    @dementedmole Hasn’t Gattie put some question marks around anyone plying their trade in France? Mike P was specifically mentioned.

    • mxyzptlk

       /  September 7, 2012

      Yip, and he’s apparently checking in with some of those players in France to let them know they may not make the cut. Toulon has already said they won’t let Gethin Jenkins head south; if Toulon makes the Top 14 final, that falls on the same day the Lions play a Barbarians game in Hong Kong.

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