Subdued Gatland admits ‘vitriolic’ criticism shocked him in build-up
Lions coach praises players after tough 72 hours ahead of third Test
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland celebrates in the dressing-room after his side secured the series victory over Australia in Sydney. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Warren Gatland was relatively subdued when facing the media in the aftermath of guiding the Lions to its first series win since 1997 and first in Australia since 1989, seeking to heap the praise for the triumph on the players but also clearly still stung by some of the personalised criticism directed toward him for his selection.
It assuredly wouldn’t have been lost on him that much of the “vitriol” which came his way emanated for Ireland for his decision to drop Brian O’Driscoll.
“I thought the guys played exceptionally well. We started well, came under a lot of pressure and were disappointed to concede that try on half-time. Then Australia came back at us after half-time and the boys kept their composure and finished really strongly. The players deserve a lot of credit.”
He said he had been “absolutely shocked by” the criticism that came his way when asked if he felt personally vindicated. “It was vitriolic almost in terms of the criticism. People are entitled to their own opinions and sometimes you have to make tough calls. We made a tough call and we knew there would be some fallout from it, but there have been other players who have been unlucky on this tour in terms of selection.
“I haven’t taken a lot of pleasure out of tonight in terms of feeling vindicated,” he added. “I haven’t enjoyed the last 72 hours, it’s been tough personally. Maybe in a week or two I might get some pleasure out of tonight, but at the moment there isn’t a lot of pleasure in terms of feeling vindicated with the amount of criticism that had been personally placed on me. That’s why you’re in the job, to make those tough calls. Every now and again one of them comes through and you get it right.
“I’ve always stuck by my guns by saying sometimes you have to make tough calls. In Wales a couple of years ago I made a tough call dropping Martyn Williams for Sam Warburton. Sometimes you have to put your balls on the line.”
After a barnstorming start which yielded a 19-13 lead, the concession of a seven-pointer on half-time undermined the Lions’ momentum and during the interval he revealed: “We spoke about being prepared to go to a place that not many players go to in terms of pushing your body to the limit. The players did that by running themselves into the ground.
“The bench were fantastic, they gave us impetus. Alun-Wyn spoke about how important they the bench was going to be beforehand. We knew how important the emotion Australia brought last week was. The question we asked was can they bring that emotion level again. We reckoned there was another level in us emotionally and we were able to produce that tonight.
“I think we’ve played some great rugby on this tour in the lead-up games. The first Test was two tries each and it was tight last weekend. We were able to put it together tonight, especially in the second half. We came out with the attitude that we wanted to play some rugby and move the ball. We scored a lot of points. Four tries was a vindication of how well we’ve played overall on this tour.”
Gatland understandably reserved particular mention for the scrum and Alex Corbisiero. “The scrum was brilliant. I thought Alex Corbisiero was man of the match, around the field he was sensational and justified why we picked him.
“We said all along that he was unlucky with the original selection. He did a good job and I was really pleased with the impact and impetus the bench gave us.”