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Gatland's muddled thinking
Richard Seeckts
July 3, 2013
Warren Gatland faces the media after naming his side for the final Test © Getty Images
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Three days separate the furore over Warren Gatland's selections for the deciding Lions Test and the match itself. In no time at all the media, both social and anti-social, was fizzing with fury at the omission of BOD and any number of arguable picks.

While the armchair experts are unloading their immense knowledge on the technical nuances that make one back row player infinitely better than another, or scouring the lineout statistics to prove whatever point they want to make about the selection at hooker, shouldn't we trust that Gatland and his men know their business?

The head coach has spent a year preparing for this match. He recruited the best these islands can offer to assist him. They picked the finest players from four of the top nine rugby nations for the tour and, from that elite group, those showing the best form in their positions make up the Lions team. Simple.

Except it isn't. It depends upon the game plan, player combinations, the form of others in the squad, injuries, the opposition, the referee, history and, most crucially, Gatland's hunches. Few have successfully predicted them, fewer can explain them.

Given the players, facilities and funding available to the Lions, there is no excuse to lose to Australia, a country where rugby union barely registers outside main events. Participation figures - 200,000 according to the ARU, 86,000 in the IRB's eyes - are minute in comparison to the millions that play in Britain and Ireland. The game struggles by with only five major domestic teams.

The Wallabies are not playing great rugby; South Africa or New Zealand would trounce both of these teams on current form. The Lions should expect to win against a team where only Genia is an obvious world-class performer. But Gatland's meddling and the galvanising effect of Horwill's escaping punishment for stamping have made the Aussies favourites.

Gatland's constant changing has a destabilising effect, whether you're a Welsh fan or not. Five changes for the second Test, six for the third. The most admirable thing about the second Test was the defensive qualities of both sides. Power (Roberts, O'Brien, Faletau, Phillips, Hibbard are all power changes) may be an answer but there's nobody to pick the lock. Tuilagi instead of O'Driscoll on the bench says it all.

If the Lions win on Saturday, Gatland will have just done his job, by the whisker of luck that was Kurtley Beale falling over in Brisbane. If they lose, Gatland will have presided over a failure for which there are no excuses; 3-0 but for Kurtley's slip. Moreover, he will have failed with a game plan and personnel closely resembling the Welsh teams that have serially lost to Australia under Gatland's stewardship in recent years. Nothing learned, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Either way, when the absurd hyperbole of the broadcast media dies down and this tour is eventually seen in perspective, great Lions of the past should not feel their place in history is threatened by the class of 2013.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
WRITER BIO

Richard Seeckts' rugby career consisted of one school match where he froze on the wing and despite no substitutes being available he was withdrawn from the game at half-time for mocking the opposition's line-out calls. Thereafter Richard and the sport agreed active participation was not the way ahead, but that has not prevented him from avidly writing about and watching the game. He now contributes his random observations to the Crooked Feed blog on ESPNscrum.com