herald

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Sexton could be a victim of Gatland style

Horgan fears for Lions if coach fails to adapt for All Blacks challenge

Touring Lion from 2005 Shane Horgan and former All-Black Doug Howlett at the launch of AIG’s Ultimate All Blacks Experience competition, an all-expenses paid trip for two to New Zealand to watch the All Blacks take on the British and Irish Lions in June. For more information log on to www.aig.ie/the-all-blacks/aig-lions-tourcompetition. Pic: Sportsfile
Touring Lion from 2005 Shane Horgan and former All-Black Doug Howlett at the launch of AIG’s Ultimate All Blacks Experience competition, an all-expenses paid trip for two to New Zealand to watch the All Blacks take on the British and Irish Lions in June. For more information log on to www.aig.ie/the-all-blacks/aig-lions-tourcompetition. Pic: Sportsfile
Owen Farrell of Saracens warms up ahead of the Champions Cup semi-final against Munster at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

When Warren Gatland took the 2013 British & Irish Lions to Australia, a storm blew up over his decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll for Jonathan Davies ahead of the third test.

The issue remained in-house until then because Davies was not fit to be selected for the first test, which The Lions won.

This removed any doubt about the claims of O'Driscoll until the series was squared.

It is likely Gatland would have left O'Driscoll out for that first test were the Welshman able to train through that week.

A solid case can be made that Gatland was always going to go with the power of Davies rather than the panache of O'Driscoll because it was better suited to his system.

This becomes relevant to the case of Jonathan Sexton in New Zealand. Gatland has decided to take just three out-halves in the Irishman, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar.

If Gatland is convinced about the employment of a two-playmaker, 10-12 axis, Sexton just has to stay fit and firing inside Owen Farrell.

Signal

The coach has aired his concern over Sexton's durability in what could be a signal that he views Farrell as his preferred choice to go the distance at fly-half.

"We don't know that for certain. We don't know what Gatland's thinking is," said former Ireland wing Shane Horgan.

"But what I would caution is that in the team he has selected and the way he picks his teams, if he plays Sexton and Farrell together, he has to play them together a lot.

"To play them together, you are playing two first receivers really."

This is not a system open to the 'dirt trekkers' because there is not another true second receiver among the remaining centres.

"Then, that is a completely different game to what you are playing in the midweek," he said.

"If something happens to either of those players, then you are playing a completely different game to what you've been set up to play."

In fact, Robbie Henshaw is the only regular inside centre listed beside Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te'o, Davies and Elliot Daly.

"He may be thinking to remove the risk of that, he will see who is playing as the best ten and pick those big centres, a more 'Warrenball' type of game."

For example, Gatland has retained Rob Howley as his backs coach in what is another strong nod to the Welsh way forward.

This supports the theory that Gatland is looking for the same recipe. It makes absolute sense that Gatland will stick to his style and views Sexton, Farrell and Biggar as a three-horse race for one shirt.

Gatland would be setting Farrell against Sexton in a one-on-one rather than pairing them together?

"You may be right with that," Horgan said. "I think he would be wrong to do it."

It will all come down to whether Gatland will change his coaching philosophy.

Wales' record against New Zealand is a broken one. They have never beaten them under his watch, losing 3-0 there as recently as last summer.

That template was sound enough to take care of The Wallabies 2-1 in 2013.

It won't come close to coping with what the All Blacks will bring to them.

"He needs to be willing to change," issued Horgan.

"His success rate against southern hemisphere teams is appalling.

"If he thinks he can continue with 'Warrenball,' they will be eaten up and spat out.

Evolved

"He is a coach that has evolved, to some degree, from the coach I knew when he was with Ireland."

Gatland has those he can lean on in Howley, defence coach Andy Farrell, forwards coach Steve Borthwick and scrum coach Graham Rowntree.

"There is also the influence of the other coaches," admitted Horgan.

"Whether that is enough to move him away from a philosophy he has been employing for a lot of years, we will find out in the first couple of games."

Promoted articles

Entertainment News