herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Warren the Lion Hearted leader again

Ireland's Farrell and Feek in running for Lions roles

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Pic: Reuters
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Pic: Reuters

When the machine that is the British & Irish Lions brand cranks into gear, it leaves a dark cloud hanging over the season.

To reach the wonderful spectacle that is the summer tour to New Zealand, the rugby-loving public at large has to suffer through a season in which every top individual performance on the club and international stages will be laced with the potential to make the flight next summer.

The microphone will be trust up under the snout of the man of the match and the possibility of becoming a Lions legend will be mentioned.

The brouhaha all began in Edinburgh yesterday where Warren Gatland was unveiled as the head coach in an announcement that held all the drama of the Angelus.

Fear

It is the job every coach wants; the assignment to fill every coach with fear in light of how the All Blacks have operated since the 2015 World Cup.

Ireland's band of warriors will take two shots at the world champions in November whereas England, Wales and Scotland will not even have one.

"Only Ireland are playing them, in Chicago and a game in Dublin," said Gatland.

"England, Scotland and Wales don't get a crack at them. New Zealand will be quite happy with that. Maybe that is advantage to us. They're not having a huge look at us.

"It's huge for the Irish boys, yes. Two cracks. It's a good chance for them."

The intensity of ten matches in six weeks, topped up by the quality of the opposition, makes The Lions a rank outside bet for a series win.

Indeed, Gatland would do well to take one of the three tests on offer to avoid the 3-0 whitewash visited on Brian O'Driscoll's Lions in 2005.

"Everyone has spoken about how tough it is going to be going to New Zealand," said Gatland.

"But, I think if you get offered a job like this - it is one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.

"I wouldn't have taken this job on if I didn't think there were players with the ability to go to New Zealand and win."

Gatland has an intimate knowledge of what The Lions is all about from his role as an assistant in the 2-1 defeat to South Africa in 2009 and as head coach for the 2-1 win over Australia in 2013.

"You get players from four nations who beat the hell out of each other for three or four years and then come together as one team supporting each other under that iconic badge and red jersey," he said.

The common consensus choice for captain comes down to Wales' Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn-Jones and England's Dylan Hartley.

Warburton would have to come right back to his best to back-to-back.

The ageing Wyn-Jones is not guaranteed a test place in the second row.

Hartley's long and distasteful list of indiscretions do not exactly represent the ethos of the Lions.

However, England's outstanding second row Maro Itoje would be an exciting option as a bolt from the blue.

It remains to be seen what role the Irish management will play in the formation of the cast of coaches. Defence coach Andy Farrell would appear to be short-odds to retain the role carried out in 2013.

The former Rugby League great has been a big hit within the Irish camp already as a man of motivation with oodles of leadership and genuine likeability.

Scrum coach Greg Feek would be on anyone's shortlist for scrum coach given his record for delivering for Leinster and Ireland.

SCHEDULE: 2017 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND

June 3: Provincial Union XV v The Lions

June 7: Auckland Blues v The Lions

June 10: Canterbury Crusaders v The Lions

June 13: Otago Highlanders v The Lions

June 17: Maori All Blacks v The Lions

June 20: Waikato Chiefs v The Lions

June 24: First Test: New Zealand v The Lions

June 27: Wellington Hurricanes v The Lions

July 1: Second Test: New Zealand v The Lions

July 8: Third Test: New Zealand v The Lions

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