A Weak Defence

Apologies for returning to the Lions call-ups but the controversy continues in the rugby as well as on social media.

Gatland’s defence of his decision yesterday was as weak as the Lions defence against the Maori ABs was strong.

“In terms of devaluing the shirt, I can see some people’s point on that but we’re here to win a Test series and it’s those guys covering from Auckland, not travelling halfway around the world.

We found it difficult the first 10 days when we were here in terms of jetlag and tiredness and stuff. The players that came in from Auckland last night and from Australia will be able to fit quickly into that time zone.

This is something we had planned from the start and informed the coaches and this is what we were looking to do.” 

In terms of planning it ranks up there with Theresa May. I ask once again – if you were going to do this all along – why not send for them last week. Of course the English and Irish players couldn’t travel yesterday and play Tuesday – no one disputes that – that’s why it’s called planning ffs!

“For us, the time-frame was having a look to see how the Highlanders game went; what injuries we would have and how we would cope with that and then looking to make the right decision for us.”

The Highlanders game was last Tuesday – the England and Irish players could have been on a plane Wednesday! It took him 5 more days to make the call-ups – days that could have been spent recovering!

More telling is this I this statement I think –

“My job is to win a Test series and I will do whatever it takes to do that.”

I have a conspiracy theory!

Is he in fact auditioning for the All Blacks job? Showing that he can make tough decisions and ignoring criticism.

He knows that lose this series and he is behind Ian Foster, Joe Schmidt, Dave Rennie, Vern Cotter and a number of others. Win and he leapfrogs most, if not all of them.

It’s a calculated risk – one that Joe and Vern weren’t prepared to take when offered involvement in the Lions 2017.

He doesn’t care about the Chiefs and Hurricanes games – he just needs 2 from 3 in the tests.

The call-ups are cannon fodder – disposable from his point of view. But good for them – All (or most) will become Lions in the two mid- week games and I for one wish them luck – not their fault that they are being used.

In the unlikely situation that I’m right, this is far more Machiavellian than devaluing the shirt. Gatland is looking to get back to NZ – preferably in the top job – currently he has no chance but if he pulls off a victory then things just might change.

As regard to the shirt – I respect the views of Ian McGeechan, Gareth Thomas, Will Greenwood, Jerry Guscott, Ugo Monye and all the other former  Lions who have expressed dismay and anger.

But I leave it to Graham Price to have the final word –

It would have been nice to focus solely on a fine Lions victory over the Maori, but Warren Gatland’s decision to call up players for the Lions on grounds of geography rather than merit cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

It is disrespectful, also, to the generations of players who have worn the Lions jersey down the years.

Steve Hansen was making the point the other day that those who get to play for the All Blacks feel a responsibility to others who have worn the jersey. They are just passing through and that fuels their desire to do the shirt proud.

It is simply disrespectful — disrespectful in the first instance to a guy like Joe Launchbury, who had an excellent Six Nations with England yet now finds himself passed over for a Lions spot simply because he is not playing locally.

I’m sure the boys who have been summoned by Gatland will try as hard as possible, but the fact remains that the Lions is supposed to be the pinnacle, an exclusive club for the elite of British and Irish rugby, yet now we have some players coming in who until recently were second or third choices with their national team.

I do not blame those individuals.

But Gatland has made a bad mistake.

If he had this mind all along, then he probably shouldn’t have been appointed Lions coach in the first place.

I’m just not sure he would have done it if he had been coaching New Zealand and they needed a few extra players while on a big tour.

But how difficult would it have been to have put in a call to Eddie Jones, say, last week and arranged for guys like Launchbury and Dylan Hartley to fly across to New Zealand? They would then have had ample time to acclimatise. The same applies to Cian Healy in Japan with Ireland.

When I became a Lion for the first time it was an honour I valued hugely.

I had won my Wales cap and that meant the world to me. Being selected for the Lions was then an indication that I had taken the next step and I can remember being so proud. I’m sure others have felt the same over the decades.

Yet here we are now, calling on people because they are playing fairly close by at the time.

It’s akin to a local side being short on matchday, seeing someone at a bus stop and telling him to jump aboard. Or even asking the bus driver if he wants a game.

It shouldn’t happen.

Again – a telling line refers to “if he had been coaching New Zealand’

I rest my case!

 

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