Warren Gatland has been announced as the British and Irish Lions Head Coach for the 2017 tour of New Zealand.
Anybody who used social media yesterday should hardly be surprised. Photos of the current Welsh coach were snapped by the public, whilst he posed for a photo-shoot in his new Lions gear in Edinburgh yesterday, ahead of the launch in the city today. Gatland led the Lions in Australia in 2013 to their first tour victory since the 1997 triumph in South Africa.
Can we expect ‘Warrenball’?
This term is often used to describe Wales’ style of play under Gatland. It’s route one, hard, bruising rugby. It’s not necessarily all that flashy, but it gets results. At least it used to until people worked out how to stop it.
Under Gatland Wales have won multiple Six Nations championships and of course he led the Lions to 2013 victory. So why should he change much?
There are quite a few reasons. After impressing at the World Cup, Wales have looked fairly flat. They managed a second place finish at this years Six Nations, but then put out a poor display losing to England at Twickenham, followed by a series whitewash to New Zealand, where they also lost to a second string ‘Chiefs’ side.
Wales did try to change tactics against New Zealand in the summer, promising to play a more expansive game. Although the results did not come, at times when the likes of Liam Williams was given ball in hand and space, Wales looked like an attacking threat.
With many expecting the likes of Stuart Hogg, Maro Itoje, and any combination of the exciting centre’s available across Britain and Ireland, Gatland does have the fire power to offer New Zealand something a bit different. Equally, he could choose a more ‘solid’ side, choosing the likes of Jamie Roberts and Brad Barritt to try and hold out the illustrious All Black’s back division (and, come to think of it, forwards too) Hopefully, Gatland picks more ambitiously.
A solid defence alone won’t beat New Zealand.
Why should we believe in Gatland?
Here are some achievements of his:
Premiership titles: 2002-03, 2003-04, 2004-05
Heineken Cup: 2003-04
Air New Zealand Cup: 2006
Winners: 2008, 2012, 2013
Grand Slams: 2008, 2012
Triple Crowns: 2008, 2012
British & Irish Lions
Australia 2013: Series win, 2 wins, 1 defeat
That’s not a bad track record to have. Clearly, the guy knows how to win. Sadly, if any team in global sports knows how to win at the top, it is the All Blacks. The Lions will have to do something quite special to win this series, regardless of who their coach is.
To conclude, given the right selection, the Lions could give New Zealand a serious run for their money. Sadly, with the first test just a week after the Pro12 and Premiership finals, I think ‘a run for their money’ is the best we will get.
DISCLOSURE: Any positivity in this article may be immediately revoked in the extremely likely event of an absolutely humiliating All Blacks whitewash. However, if any of the positivity here is converted into results, you’re welcome. Also, don’t tell me that headline isn’t punderful.
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The Scribbler, 7th September, 2016