Warren Gatland has hit back at critics of his rugby-style
Yesterday the fog of it descended yet again, engulfing the Lions head coach as he unveiled an all-new starting XV to start the second match of the tour against the Blues in Auckland tomorrow. And with it came the red mist.
Gatland has felt tainted by the term ever since it was first used by Brian Smith, the former England coach then director of rugby at London Irish, in the build-up to the last Lions tour.
“Basically, this is about belligerence,” Smith wrote. “They’ll be looking to outmuscle every Australian side they meet.”
The term has been adopted with glee in New Zealand, and was trotted out again after the ponderous victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in the opening game on Saturday.
This time, Gatland decided to return fire, rolling out the evidence from Australia in his own defence.
People decided to be critical and a lot of people got caught with their pants down afterwards
Lions coach Warren Gatland
“There’s an opportunity for people to want to be critical,” said Gatland.
“We experienced that four years ago where people decided to be critical and a lot of people got caught with their pants down afterwards, didn’t they?”
Last weekend, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said of Gatland’s style that “every team he’s coached has played the same way so I don’t see why he would change now”.
But as well as the series win in Australia in 2013, Gatland was able to point to his sustained success with Waikato, Wasps and Wales to underscore why he feels fully justified in coaching his own way – and without tips from the outside.
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When asked to comment on the latest critique of his style, Gatland replied: “When did that way start? Did that start when we were successful at Wasps, or was that when I was coaching Waikato to the Air New Zealand Cup, or when did a certain style change?
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“Look, a few years ago, Brian Smith coined a phrase ‘Warrenball’. I don’t know whether that was because he was jealous of how much success we had.
“But we had a group of players who came through Wales at the time who ended up being big, physical players.
“The modern game is about getting across the gainline and trying to get front-foot ball and playing to space if that’s possible.
Warren Gatland's Lions beat Barbarians 1307 in an unconvincing display
“The message to the players is that we want to play positive rugby, we want to be able to move the ball and shift and create chances.
“And to match the All Blacks you’ve got to display a bit of X-factor and that X-factor means an offload, or doing something a little outside the box, and the players are being encouraged to do that.
“That’s what we’re going to need to do to be able to beat them, and express themselves, back their skill, back their ability. We don’t want to be proscribed, and we don’t want to play by numbers.”
Wales hooker Ken Owens will captain the Lions against the Blues having staved off an ankle problem that had jeopardised his place on the tour.
Ireland No8 Stander will line up alongside James Haskell and Justin Tipuric in a balanced back-row as the Lions bid to keep the Blues’ full-strength line-up at bay while landing a few punches of their own.
British & Irish Lions arrive in New Zealand to traditional Maori welcome Wed, May 31, 2017
The British & Irish Lions have touched down in New Zealand to a traditional Maori welcome ahead of the three-Test series
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The British & Irish Lions have landed in New Zealand ahead of the test series
The Munster back-row admitted he has had to pinch himself on becoming a Lion, and settling into a squad that represents the very best talent in the northern hemisphere.
“The Lions is something that you work towards, the passion of the boys who have been in the jersey before you; four nations coming together for one goal,” said Stander.
“It takes a lot of hard work to be part of a bigger squad, that is the best of the best of four nations. It means you’ve worked hard to get there.
“The job’s not done yet but you’re part of it, in a group that has a lot of talent and X-factor. I’m looking forward to playing alongside that, the passion the boys has for the jersey, and the excitement.
“I feel like a kid again, when you get in that first team, you almost can’t believe that you’re there.”