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2013 British & Irish Lions
Gatland plays down selection furore
ESPN Staff
February 13, 2013
Warren Gatland at the unveiling of the Lions coaching team, Edinburgh, Scotland, December 12, 2012
Warren Gatland insists he will not make the same mistakes as Sir Clive Woodward when he leads the Lions this summer © Getty Images
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British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland has dismissed reports suggesting he is wary of picking too many England players for this year's tour to Australia because of the intense scrutiny that will bring.

English influence on recent tours:

  • 2001 tour to Australia: A total of 18 players, including captain Martin Johnson, were originally selected with replacement taking this figure to 20.
  • 2005 tour to New Zealand: Former England coach Sir Clive Woodward opted for 21 England players who were joined by two more later in the tour.
  • 2009 tour to South Africa: Only eight England players made the grade.

Gatland, who is set to announce a 37-man squad in April, has vehemently denied that nationality will be a key factor in the selection process and insists he will pick the best men for the job - regardless of what country they come from.

England are dominating this year's Six Nations with many of Stuart Lancaster's players expected to be rewarded for their strong run of form. But speaking in the Evening Standard, Gatland highlighted the extra pressure such a scenario would put on the squad.

"If they do well in the Six Nations, there will be a reasonable contingent of English players," he said. "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."

Those comments were seen by some as a hint that Gatland may tailor his squad accordingly but the New Zealand coach has since rubbished those reports. "I am extremely disappointed that anybody should try to misinterpret what I said and try to say that will count against English players, that's absolute b-------," Gatland told The Daily Telegraph. "The last thing I would ever do is limit the number of English players. There is absolutely no limit to the number of any players from any nation we will pick if they are worthy of a place on the tour. And I would happily pick 15 English players in the first Test at Brisbane if I thought they were the best 15 players for the job.

"The only consideration for a Lions coach is to get the best 15 on the park to do the job. That's paramount, I'm not remotely bothered which country they come from. When I first started at Wales I remember I once picked 13 Ospreys for one of my early Tests in charge.

"Hand on heart I would never be able to look myself in the mirror if we didn't pick a player who deserved to go on Tour because he was English. I just couldn't do that to any individual. Morally it is just wrong.

"I have been hugely impressed with the professionalism of the England boys under Stuart Lancaster and the way they conduct themselves on and off the pitch, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point out that certain other pressures come into play. I think we are all aware there are certain outlets who at some stage will try and wind up the English. I thought I was only really stating the obvious, what everybody has known from the past."

RFU chairman Bill Beaumont has also spoken out to highlight the change in culture adopted by Lancaster. "English players have always represented the Lions with enormous pride," Beaumont said.

"Wearing the Lions shirt, whether captain or player, is something that all English players take very seriously. This will undoubtedly continue for those that get picked this time. It is well documented the strong culture and sense of responsibility on and off the pitch that this England team possesses. Those fortunate enough to get picked will of course take those attributes down under."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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