These three will assist the head coach on the tour of New Zealand – but there are more to be announced. By Oliver Pickup in Dublin.
THERE WERE few surprises on Wednesday afternoon as Warren Gatland revealed his core coaching trio for next year’s tour to New Zealand, with Andy Farrell and Rob Howley – defence and attack coach respectively in the 2013 series win over Australia – joined by Steve Borthwick, who has been instrumental in powering England’s forwards over the last year.
Speculation had been rife that there would be a left-field appointment, with Ben Ryan, mastermind of Fiji men’s rugby sevens success at the Olympics, Saracens’ Director of Rugby Mark McCall, and Lions legends Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson, among a cluster of others, linked in the media.
Encouragingly, Gatland hinted at the press conference in Dublin that two more names – possibly both attacking coaches – would be added “in the next couple of weeks”. As the Lions go in search of a second series triumph in New Zealand (with the 1971 tour the solitary success) against the perennial top-ranked team in the world, the feeling is offensive guile, ambition and invention will be paramount.
Howley, 46, pointed out that “to win a modern Test match you need to score between 20 and 30 points”, and noted that when Ireland defeated the All Blacks 40-29 in Chicago last month – their maiden victory against them, also ending an 18-match unbeaten run – they crossed five times.
“It’s been challenging, and I’ve spoken with a lot of people,” Gatland, 53, said of the process to choose his trio of coaches, which began in earnest a month ago. “There were two points to consider: continuity and adding fresh faces.”
Farrell, now Ireland’s defence coach, and Howley offered that continuity, and given that four years ago the pair were critical for the Lions’ first tour success since 1997, it was understandable that Gatland retained their services.
In 2013 Graham Rowntree toured as forwards coach, and now Borthwick has replaced him in his role for England and the Lions. The 37-year-old said: “The Lions is special. It’s a privilege, an honour, and very humbling. We have the players and potential to create a great forward pack.”
One could sense Gatland’s regret that Gregor Townsend, who will take over from Vern Cotter as Scotland head coach next June, had snubbed the opportunity to add flair to the attack. “It was in his contract he could join us,” the New Zealander said ruefully. However, he took encouragement from a “best ever” autumn for the Home Nations against supposedly superior southern hemisphere countries. “We can take a lot of confidence from the performances and results,” he added, remarking that the coaches had spent Tuesday evening sketching a Lions squad longlist of “about 50” names.
Will Greenwood, a three-time tourist with the Lions – including in 2005 when Sir Clive Woodward’s enlarged roster of playing and coaching staff struggled to a 3-0 series loss – told Rugby World that Gatland’s three appointments thus far were “to be expected”. He added: “Warren seems to have a formula whereby he changes one of the three main coaches every time; experience is key.
“He has tipped his hat to teams playing well, and involving Borthwick and Farrell are big plusses. It’s a shame about Gregor Townsend, but it would be good to see some really experimental attacking coaches join. Ben Ryan would be a left-field choice, but will certainly bring fresh ideas and skills. Jonny Wilkinson would be a good addition, too, possibly as kicking coach. Certainly, against the All Blacks you need experience and to think outside the box.”