Power of Three Plus One

Gatty has a history of throwing verbal bombs around (the Welsh hate the Irish more than anyone, for example), and he was at it again last week. The rambunctuous Kiwi, and Lions head coach, claimed that the dastardly English players were making his life more difficult by – gasp – playing better than their Welsh, Scottish and Irish counterparts. His reason? The Aussies have a particular like for poking fun at the whinging Poms, and it would make his life more difficult if he had to pick loads of the English.

This deserves greater scrutiny for a number of reasons – do they, does it matter, and why was he saying it anyway?

Gatland is a Kiwi hooker who played for New Zealand (though not as an All Black) – he’s a proud New Zealander, and with that comes the absolute conviction that you know more about rugby than anyone. Stick your head above the parapet and claim otherwise, and they’ll ruthlessly target you until they are proven right. Ask Quade Cooper – after the Wallabies won the 2011 Tri-Nations, the Kiwis realized they were actually a genuine threat for the RWC, and ruthlessly targeted their key player, NZ-born charmer Cooper, until he mentally broke. Head coach Smiler Henry condoned the shocking public abuse being doled out to Cooper, and it still leaves a rather nasty taste in the mouth.

That’s how New Zealand reacts to challenges, but not Australia. Australians are a sunny, optimistic bunch, yet they know they have no right to beat the likes of New Zealand and South Africa, or even England. They feel that, when they do so, they do it through hard work and intelligent play, but they have no divine right to do so. Sure, the Aussies don’t like the Whinging Poms, but remember when England pitched up in Australia for RWC03 as not only challengers, but favourites? The equivalent to the Cooper public destruction was a hand-painted sign saying “Boring Rugby Team Trains Here” outside their base. Is that it? The Aussies make a big play of their English rivalry, but deep down enjoy the joust and challenge as much as winning.

If a Lions team pitched up with 20 English on the plane, or 5, the Aussie reaction wouldn’t be much different. They would respect the best players the Northern Hemisphere has to offer, and concoct a specific plan to beat them – again, they would see themselves as having no innate right to win, but as having a (big) challenge to overcome. They’d have as much fun poking at the Welsh and the English.

Plus there is the matter of the character of the current English team – no Big Bad Johnno, no metronomic Wilko, no trash-talking Matt Dawson. The Stuart Lancaster-coached England player is typically humble, quiet, driven and moderately talented. Even Chris Ashton made a point of commiserating with Simon Zebo as he limped off the pitch last week. They are hard to hate, and easy to respect. One senses the Aussies would see them as a worthy and fun adversary – it’s hard to imagine that Brad Barritt would get much traction as Public Enemy Number One.

So why would Gatty feel the need to specifically take a shot at the English, even under the questionable guise of team-building? The Lions concept is all about the Power of Four and all in it together – it’s pretty dumb to risk alienating half your squad before you’ve even announced it just to pre-empt some imaginary Wallaby response. Gatty has been at pains to differentiate himself from Graham Henry, the only other Southern Hemisphere Lions coach, whose tour in 2001 descended into Power of Austin Healey as the nations split up.  He’s claiming he’s really a Northern Hemisphere coach since he has spent so long here, and in fact, he is in a unique position to straddle the rugger globe, which is why he’s the perfect Lions coach!

But all he has really done has written the headline for the like of Stephen Jones if something goes wrong, and made life more difficult for himself. Would you really pick a squad on the basis that it would annoy the opposition less? Gatty would do well to remember the atmosphere in the last Lions tour – Geech spent years talking up the Lions concept and engendered the team and group dynamic which we are going to need to win a series, and Gatty made that one little bit harder with his comments this week.

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11 Comments

  1. Good post as always. It’s hard to understand Gatland’s motives in making this statement although when the media pounced on him subsequently he was at pains to point out that his comments did not suggest he wouldn’t be picking the best squad irrespective of its make up. The worry here is that he will be viewed with suspicion by the English players and as such his comments could potentially damage team spirit. He is prone to these kind of odd remarks, remember his ‘the Welsh hate Ireland’ remarks some time back.

    Interestingly Chris Foy in the Dail Mail takes an opposing view to what you have posted http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/article-2278833/Warren-Gatland-right—hate-English–Chris-Foy-world-rugby.html

    Either way you look at this though I think he should have kept his mouth shut on this one and just get on with the job of picking the best Lions squad to win the series..end of.

  2. Len

     /  February 19, 2013

    Guys maybe I’m wrong on this but was Gattys comments not so much about the English players being a whining source of comic relief for the Convicts and more to do with the negative press (and police attention) they drew upon themselves during the world cup? I think he’d like to avoid things like videoing maids in hotels and jumping off car ferries which could have a negative effect on the squad as a whole and would have certain sections of the media questioning whether the Lions tour has a future? To that end I can see his point, however this is not an opinion that should ever have left the confines of his head. Now as Peter points out the English players are likely to be suspicious of him and any margin call selection wise which goes against an English player is likely to be held up in the press as confirmation of his anti English bias. Would you go so far as to say he has made his position as coach untenable or will everyone just laugh this off as another Gatty gaff?

    • Yes, there was an element of that, but does the point not still hold: this English squad appears to be of a very different character to Johnno’s mob, lead by Bloody Good Bloke Chris Robshaw and with Jolly Good Fellows like Tom Wood and Brad Barritt to the fore?

      • Len

         /  February 19, 2013

        I agree he’s taring all of the current English squad based on the behaviour of several players. If he was overly concerned about this then he could have omitted the various “trouble makers” who are still playing. Now the media will hound him no matter what he does. I wonder would the Lions committee think of dropping him as coach?

      • Ciaran

         /  February 19, 2013

        I thought it was more aimed at the press. Something like “There are going to be lots of English players on the tour so don’t turn it into a circus with your reporting”. Obviously he worded it stupidly (shock!) but I think that point is reasonable.

  3. TJ Hooker

     /  February 19, 2013

    Not sure why Gatty made his views on this matter public. Perhaps his verbal grenades of media lore are not so finely calibrated and are just examples of him shooting his mouth off. Either way, there is some truth to what he says.
    To suggest that the Aussie sporting philosophy is somehow more noble than that of NZ is stretching things considerably. I would say they are at least as one-eyed and hysterically jingoistic in their outlook, and their media have no problem rowing in behind them.
    Also, I think it fair to mention that QCoo brought a lot of the opprobium on himself with a series of cheapshots on Sir Ruchie in the run-up to the WC.

  4. I think the appraisal of England as “moderate” talents maybe strikes a slightly more bum note than was intended? Compared with recent England teams (Shaun Perry, Erinle, Jamie Noon, and on and on…) this lot are Richie Richardson’s West Indies.

    However, I do think they are a victory for qualities other than talent. For such a young team their discipline and adherence to positivity both with each other and with their belief in the coach’s game plan are exceptional. Robshaw deserves a good bit of credit but IMO Stuart Lancaster is the real driver here.

    My one caveat is that he actually took over at a very good time for overhauling the squad ethos, after the World Cup that was. Still, if you give someone a gap and they take it, that remains to their credit. He’s done an amazing job and seems a great fella to boot, more power to him.

    On Gatland – his mind games are woeful. Wales – and this could be biased anecdotal evidence created by my brain to back up my point – always seem to do better the less he says publicly ahead of a game.

  5. Len

     /  February 19, 2013

    Sorry lads went off on abut of a tangent there. Having reread the fatty piece I now see what your getting at. I actually think Gatty has a point (although again one he should have kept to himself). The kind of vitriol gatty is talking about is there but has generally nothing to do with the players themselves (and more with the national identity. Basically it boils down to sticking it to the old colonial power (and their idiot media). As to your point about the treatment of QC by New Zealand do you imagine that any Irish man playing for England who dropped a knee on Driccos head in a 6n match and then punched him in the HC finale would receive any different reception on his next visit here?

  6. Willie Joe

     /  February 19, 2013

    I’m glad that others wiser than I also thought that Quade Cooper’s treatment during the RWC was appalling. Good on WoC for pointing it out, I personally lost a lot of respect for New Zealand as a rugby nation as a result.

    Cooper’s actions towards McCaw in the build-up were nasty and thuggish. But the co-ordinated and systematic abuse given to Cooper every time he touched a rugby ball made for one the most utterly disgraceful spectacles I have ever had the misfortune to witness in sport. I was disgusted to the point that I simply stopped watching the RWC.

    That Graham Henry as a national coach was able to give his tacit support to the targeted abuse of an opposition player and not only get away with it but escape without significant censure was also a disgrace. He should have lost his bloody job!

    It was not in the spirit of rugby, much like the booing of Owen Farrell in Dublin recently.

  7. Seiko

     /  February 20, 2013

    I think Gatty has a point – but his criticism was aimed at the media more than at the England players. I’m pretty sure it was a Murdock (Australian) publication that published the false sexual harassment story about Hartley, Ashton & Haskell with a chamber maid at the world cup – and who could blame Gatland from trying to avoid dealing with this kind of nonsense. It was pointed out by the England players that the Irish team (with Irish media) had been in the same dwarf throwing bar as the English team, but no one said a word about it.

    The Australian media is every bit as bad, if not worse than the British & NZ media, though they may behave themselves since Sky/Times have such an interest in the tour – which won’t stop Tony O’Reilly’s lot having a few potshots.

    Having lived in Australia for a while, my impression was that Australians detested the Poms and but had a lot of respect for Kiwis as they were very hardworking (unlike themselves).

  8. On a separate but related note could you also make the case that ‘being English’ irrespective of character has to some extent influenced the selection of the Lions coach and captain more than anything the media in SA/OZ/NZ think about the English? Since 1950 there has only been two English coaches (Osbourne in 1950 & Woodward in 2005) and 3 English captains (Johnson, Corry, Beaumont).

    Growing up I remember being told that generally English men weren’t selected as Captain/Coach because the Celts had issues with taking orders from an Englishman, whether or not that’s true or just anecdotal I don’t know but would hope that since the advent of the professional era any such prejudices (if indeed they did exist) are a thing of the past.

    So in that spirit its actually very irresponsible of Gatland to have even approached this subject at all and potentially stir up old tensions that are best left where they belong..in the past.

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