By Sarah Mockford in Brisbane
IT’S FUNNY how one innocuous comment can cause a media storm. Warren Gatland should know this all too well, but if he was in any doubt about the snowball effect he only had to look at the Sunday papers or turn on the sports news Down Under.
‘Lions accuse Wallabies of spying’ screamed the headlines after Gatland revealed at the press conference following the win over Queensland Reds that the squad’s conditioners had caught someone videoing a training session in Perth and made them delete the recorded footage. Then he mentioned the Wallabies had been filming behind the posts and collating videos on individual players – the fact he didn’t specify that this happened at the Western Force match rather than a training session only serving to fuel the fire.
No wonder he was quick to quell the growing controversy on Sunday morning, saying: “There are no spying allegations – I’d like to clarify that. We threw some punter out of training and Australia videoed the game in Perth, which they’re perfectly entitled to do. That’s part of a team preparing for an international series. I’m not getting paranoid about people watching training.”
No sweeping for bugs or black hoardings shielding prying eyes from training a la Clive Woodward for the 2013 Lions then. The Aussies have hit back strongly, however; the Wallabies own website has accused Gatland of “stirring the pot” and labelling the claims a “clumsy spying theory”.
Returning to the rugby – after all, that is why the Lions are in Australia – Alex Corbisiero will pull on the famous red shirt on Tuesday night against Combined Country in Newcastle after his mammoth journey from Argentina. The England prop had to take five flights to make it to Brisbane yesterday after leaving England’s South America tour on Wednesday – and he’ll be on a plane again tomorrow as the Lions head down to Newcastle.
Ryan Grant, the other prop called up, had a slightly more straightforward journey from South Africa and will settle himself on the bench on Tuesday. It’s the selection of his fellow Scot Stuart Hogg at fly-half that could be the most interesting this week. It’s been a while since Hogg donned the No 10 shirt and while this opposition are unlikely to stretch the Lions as the Reds did on Saturday, it will be a big test for the squad’s youngest member to marshall the side, especially with no fly-half cover on the bench.
Hogg will benefit from having the impressive 2009 centre pairing of Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll outside him. On reviving their partnership, O’Driscoll said: “We get on well off the pitch and I’m sure that doesn’t do our relationship on the pitch any harm. It’s exciting playing with someone who’s as strong a ball-carrier as he is and he’s got great range to his game too.”
There was no time for any extra shut-eye for Tommy Bowe on Sunday morning as he had an operation on his hand, but the winger will not mind the early start if it means he can play a further part in this tour. The surgeon has said that he could be back in two weeks if the procedure goes well and it’s a sign of how highly Gatland values Bowe that he is being given the time to recover.
The Irishman is by far the most experienced winger in the squad and had looked odds-on for a Test spot after impressing in his two outings against the Force and Reds; it’s now a waiting game to see whether he’s available for the Australia series. He’s likely to miss the first Test at least and countryman Simon Zebo has been called up as cover from the USA, but he will be aiming for the second clash in Melbourne.
Tommy Bowe talks horses, courses and embarrassment sources in the July issue of Rugby World, plus there are plenty more Lions features – on sale now!