By Alan Dymock
IF EVER there was a media brouhaha that your regular Australian rugby fan would want from the British Isles at this time of the year, then Warren Gatland’s purported ‘Anglo-gate’ fits the bill perfectly.
In an interview with the Evening Standard yesterday Gatland was quoted as saying of the English. “If they do well in the Six Nations, there will be a reasonable contingent of English players, but that brings a certain element of – how do I say it? – other pressures that come with selecting a lot of English players.”
After this little gem, the British and Irish Lions head coach qualified it by suggesting that with a larger English contingent would come more attention from the media on either side of the continent and that squad members from England would attract more attention than most.
What is clear, is that any Lions squad, regardless of national makeup, would be targeted in Australia. Gatland was simply stating it as he saw it. It was a line from an wide-ranging interview and one that is interesting, regardless of context. However, just because it’s obvious, it’s possibly not something worth suggesting in February.
Of course, Gatland is not the type to sit back when a media firestorm erupts, especially not for something he feels has been misrepresented for, especially after suggesting there will be “a reasonable contingent”.
Today he told the Daily Telegraph that anyone saying this Standard interview implied he intended not to pick too many Englishmen for fear of an Aussie backlash was talking, “absolute bull****””.
Leaving no stone unturned, Gatland reiterated a point he had made months before about squad balance, saying. “I would happily pick 15 English players in the first Test at Brisbane if I thought they were the best 15 players for the job. The only consideration for a Lions coach is to get the best 15 on the park to do the job. That’s paramount, I’m not remotely bothered which country they come from.”
It is also worth noting that Gatland has already stated that he also wants representation from every single home nation.
Of course, Gatland is used to throwing out a few barbs, it’s almost expected part of the Six Nations circus and music to the ears of the rugby public, rendered motionless by banal, meaningless quotes and for journalists behind the mics, but a furore like this must be causing furtive looks from the considerable Lions PR machine whose job it is to keep track of every howitzer fired by their figurehead.
The Grand Slam winning coach is a fighter and the kind of man you want lighting fires under players backsides before a test. Nevertheless, when he takes that on before a squad is even selected, it means that he is likely to ruffle feathers in the coming months. Today he is at England’s training camp in Burton-upon-Trent and I’m sure, privately, at least, he’ll be dowsing the fears of Stuart Lancaster’s in-form squad.
I’ve no doubt he will pick a squad fit brimming with regional dialects from all four countries to go into battle for six weeks Down Under. He should not, however, be left on his own to fight battles and only a recording device away from a media furore. That will not help the British and Irish Lions. He is already being scrutinised for every nuance of every sentence and come April, when his squad is picked. He will be in for another, more strenuous round of media boxing as his selections are pored-over.
Hide him away and let the mystique of the Lions do the talking until they land Down Under, then let battle commence.