Monday 18 December 2017

Gatland has earned the right to do it his way

All Black hooker Coles unlikely to make first Test against Lions

Robbie Henshaw of the British and Irish Lions during their captain’s run at the QBE Stadium in Auckland. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw of the British and Irish Lions during their captain’s run at the QBE Stadium in Auckland. Photo: Sportsfile

"It's all rugby, mate," said then coach Martin Johnson.

"Rucking, tackling, kicking, running, passing. It's all rugby."

This came in response to how England's unimaginative, physical brand of rugby was thwarted by Ireland, thus crumbling their designs on a Grand Slam in 2011.

The former British & Irish Lions captain was soon to be sacked as national boss - not before he made a convincing defence of his rugby principles.

The revered Englishman had a valuable point.

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Photo: Sportsfile
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Photo: Sportsfile

'Leicester's Way' is not the same as 'Leinster's Way'. 'Scarlets' Way' is not the same as 'Munster's Way'.

It has already been widely argued how the Lions can't beat the All Blacks by playing the 'New Zealand Way'.

In fact, they have to come together from a base of four different ways of playing the game to challenge the best in the world. This is a near impossible task.


South Africa were not inclined to stray too far from their traditional set-piece power game when they ruled the world.

Anyway, when did it become a sin to play to your strengths?

"I don't know why I have to f****** keep defending myself," Warren Gatland could be heard to say on microphone at the conclusion of an uncomfortable press conference in which the latest challenge came about his belief system.

It has been good enough for the hard-to-please folk of Wales for ten years.

That is quite a reign in quite an unforgiving environment.

Gatland has, quite rightly, earned the right to do it his way from his success at Wasps, at Waikato, at Wales and for the 2013 The British & Irish Lions. The overlords of the Lions have not re-hired him to be anything other than what he has been - a winner.

It would be foolhardy, in the extreme, to map out a radical move away from his style of play in order to make for a more aesthetically pleasing series against the world champions.

The attraction of 'Warrenball' - he obviously doesn't care for the term - is that it is relatively simple and, literally, straightforward.

For example, the detailed, meticulous nature of Joe Schmidt's coaching would not, could not, work for the Lions in the ridiculously short lead-in period to the start of the tour.

Barge Pole

That is why the Ireland coach wouldn't have touched backs coach Rob Howley's job with a barge pole.

Elsewhere, it looks like All Black Dane Coles will miss out on the first Test against the British & Irish Lions.

Widely regarded as the best hooker in the world, the Hurricanes captain has been away from the game since March 18 with concussion.

Former Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree was unable to give positive news about Coles's participation against the Chiefs in Super Rugby this Friday.

Originally, this was pinpointed as the game he had to make in order to be in a position to face the Lions in the first Test on June 24.

"With Colesy, there is still no change," said the Hurricanes assistant.

"It is still just week to week and, at the moment, we won't be seeing him this weekend."

"It is hard to say because the whole concussion thing is so grey, if you like. He hasn't been able to train probably hard enough at this stage.

"It's hard to say whether he will be available for any of the Tests or the first Test.

"It's bad news for the All Blacks, bad news for all of New Zealand really."

While coach Steve Hansen is loaded in many areas, the drop-off in excellence from Coles to, say, Crusaders' Codie Taylor is significant.

The situation will be further clarified when Hansen announces the All Blacks squad tomorrow to prepare for the upcoming Test series.

The general feeling is Coles will be named, although this will not shine a light on his availability.

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