Gatland warns large English contingent on Lions squad may have negative impact


The British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has warned that a large English contingent on this summer’s tour to Australia may have a negative impact.

“At the moment, England are playing well,” Gatland was quoted in the London Evening Standard. “They did well in the autumn, particularly the outstanding victory against the All Blacks and, if they do well in the Six Nations, there will be a reasonable contingent of English players.

“But that brings a certain element of – how do I say it – other pressures that come with selecting a lot of English players. It becomes a much greater media focus from the English papers; potentially a negative focus from the Australian papers. And English players are targeted by other countries. [They are] not always the most popular with other countries because of the history. People like having a pop at them.”

Gatland qualified his comments by stating, “The best players will be selected,” before adding: “It’s just being aware of potential issues that may arise. We all know what happened with England at the World Cup and the circus that was created. I’ve just got to be aware of the possibilities that, if there are a number of English players on the tour, the same sort of things could be instigated, through stings through the media or set-ups trying to create controversy.”

All told, the comments are a stern warning about player discipline from the Welsh head coach, currently on sabbatical to focus on the Lions.

Rejected suggestion

Gatland also rejected the suggestion that, as a New Zealander, he is unable to fully comprehend what it means to represent the Lions. In response he highlighted his coaching CV with Connacht, Ireland, London Wasps and most recently, guiding Wales to two Grand Slams and a World Cup semi-final.

This, he stated, puts him in a stronger position than the 2001 head coach, and fellow Kiwi, Graham Henry. “Henry was coaching Wales and a lot of people felt that maybe too many Welsh players went on that tour,” said Gatland. “From an Irish perspective, we were disappointed that we had three or four players that missed out.”

Denis Hickie and Geordan Murphy were two such Lions contenders in 2001 who were overlooked. “Henry had been in the Welsh job for about 18 months when he was appointed for the Lions, not having been long in the Northern Hemisphere,” Gatland continued.

“To be honest, when he looks back, he wasn’t really prepared for it. I’ve been here pretty much full-time since 1989. I’m much more of a northerner, that’s where I’ve done most of my coaching. I lived in Ireland for a long time and coached there, coached in London with Wasps [2002-2005] and now five years in Wales. Having lived in three countries, I have a reasonable understanding of a lot of the cultural differences. In Ireland, it’s a political minefield at times dealing with the issues of the North and the South.”

Gatland – who is joined on the coaching ticket by English duo Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree and interim Welsh coach Rob Howley – also confirmed there has been discussion on whether to select players who qualify on residency grounds.

“It’s something that we’ve touched on. These are the sort of things that come into consideration when you finally select the squad.

“If we’re making a 50/50 decision on a player, it won’t be about the country they come from. It’ll probably be looking at what they’re like as people. Are they good people? Will they be able to handle the disappointment if they’re not selected in the Test squad? Will they be supportive of the rest of the team? Do they relate and communicate? We’ve got to bring a squad together in such a short period that the last thing we need is factions within the squad.”

The Lions squad is due to be announced on April 30th, the Tuesday after the Heineken Cup semi-final weekend, with the players only gathering five days before the June 1st fixture against The Barbarians in Hong Kong. The first Test match against the Wallabies is in Brisbane on June 22nd.

Lions’ share Australian address needed to secure tickets

Only those with an Australian address can purchase tickets for the Lions tour matches when they go on public sale on Sunday night (10pm Irish time).

Ticket prices for the three Test matches – in Brisbane on June 22nd, Melbourne on June 29th and Sydney on July 6th – range from €73 up to €226.

There is a four ticket maximum per Test match, for each address, and an eight ticket maximum for the six warm-up games on Australian soil.

The 10-match tour begins against The Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1st.

Travelling supporters can only purchase tickets through the seven official tour operators.

The Lions ticket allocation for each game is currently 6,500. The most popular package is an 18-night trip, costing €7,500, which includes accommodation and tickets for the three Tests. The full tour package (40 nights and all 10 fixtures) costs €16,300. GAVIN CUMMISKEY

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