Gatland: I've chosen my skipper
March 30, 2013
Warren Gatland © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has decided on his captain and the majority of his squad for this summer's tour to Australia.
Gatland will announce his squad for the Test series with the Wallabies on April 30 after a final selection meeting with his coaches Graham Rowntree, Andy Farrell and Rob Howley. He says he has chosen the majority of his squad, including the captain, but there remain around 13 places still up for grabs over the next month.
"I'd say about 65-70 per cent of the squad [is selected]," Gatland told Fairfax Media. "We've had four meetings at this stage about the squad of 36 or 37, and probably 24-25 of those players have been consistent in the selections meetings, you could probably put ticks next to those names."
He continued: "Players are coming from positions where they're used to being No.1 but in a Lions team they are No.2 or No.3. It's natural for them to be disappointed but it's how they respond to that disappointment.
"When it comes down to finalising the last positions we definitely will be talking about personality and if they aren't selected [in the top Lions side] how they are going to respond to that disappointment. Are they good team people, how do they get on with others? Personality is going to be huge for us."
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll, England's Chris Robshaw and Wales' Sam Warburton and Alun-Wyn Jones have all been tipped for the captaincy. Gatland said he had decided "in my mind" but not told the player in question.
"There have been lots of different theories about captaincy," Gatland said. "[Former Lions coach] Ian McGeechan liked big physical second-rowers, he picked Martin Johnson and Paul O'Connell. Other coaches in the past have liked front row forwards and then players with a huge amount of experience like Brian O'Driscoll have done a good job as well.
"It's about us picking the right person who has the respect of the squad, not in terms of just the ability to play, but also the type of person he will be in terms of leading.
"Whoever we pick [as captain], we want them to be under no illusions that their form has to be good enough in the lead-up to the Test series. I would have no problem picking someone else in the first Test if I felt their form was better. There won't be any favouritism towards the captain and it's good for the harmony of the squad." On a short trip back to New Zealand, Gatland also revealed that he had spoken to World Cup winning coach Sir Graham Henry, who led the Lions' last tour to Australia in 2001, when they lost the Test series 2-1 to the Wallabies.
"I spoke to Graham about his experiences in '01 and what he said to me was that he'd learnt a lot from that Lions experience," Gatland said. "It was just a matter of picking his brains, and he makes a really valid point that the Lions is as much about getting things right of the field as it is on it."
Gatland also spoke about England centre Manu Tuilagi's potential to play on the wing as well as in midfield for the Lions. Tuilagi's potential impact in a Test series is undoubted but there remain many doubts over his decision making in midfield after missing a couple of crucial opportunities in the Six Nations decider against Wales.
"I think he's capable of playing 12," Gatland said. "It's just a preference thing. Australian teams in the past have used a bit more of a ball player at 12 and a Stirling Mortlock sort of player at 13, but in the northern hemisphere we've probably played a more physical sort of player at 12. I think Manu is capable of playing 12, 13 or 14 - he's capable of playing on the wing as well - so he's definitely not exclusively a 13."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
He teed up Obolensky's try, fought in Burma and played cricket for Warwickshire - we Rewind to look at the story of Peter Cranmer
With the World Cup just a year away, Tom Hamilton picks out five matches to ensure you have tickets for
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup