Does Warren Gatland get the Lions?
February 15, 2013
Lions boss Warren Gatland has attempted to play down his apparent concerns about selecting a lot of English players © Getty Images
I just cannot understand where Warren Gatland was coming from when he voiced his fears about the legacy of England's World Cup debacle affecting the Lions tour.
He was quickly into damage limitation, insisting that it would not affect his selection thinking, but it is slightly worrying that he felt the need to go public at all. The England team's behaviour in New Zealand was extraordinary, more in keeping with an Old Boys team on an Easter tour back in the 60s than a group of professional players competing in the most important tournament in the world.
It was hard to comprehend at the time and still beggars belief. There is still no other explanation except a complete failure of management and it will certainly never happen again.
What worries me more about Gatland's remarks is that they show he does not fully understand the Lions' ethic. There was a time when rifts within the party upset the unity of the team but the lessons were learnt and everything was sorted even before I made my first tour (as a player) in 1968.
The 1966 tour to Australia and New Zealand was a real watershed and highlighted a number of issues that Gatland still needs to get right nearly 50 years later.
The first huge mistake in 1966 was making Mike Campbell-Lamerton captain. Wales had won the Championship and provided the bulk of the Test team but Alan Pask, their hugely respected and experienced captain, was not considered the right man. It led to a collective Welsh sulk during the tour that undermined everything even though Campbell-Lamerton, to his credit, dropped himself when he felt he was not up to the task in the Tests.
Lessons one and two - pick a captain who is sure of his Test place and go for the obvious. That is why all speculation before the start of the Six Nations is a waste of time. Going into this campaign Sam Warburton was a 'shoe-in' according to some - now he will be lucky to make the touring party.
With England the only team unbeaten after two rounds of the Six Nations - a very rare occurrence in itself - Chris Robshaw has to be the favourite at this stage but he still needs to prove he is going to command a Test place. Fortunately, Gatland has an ace up his sleeve this year. Occasionally, you have a player who commands so much respect you can forget the rules and Brian O'Driscoll is one of them.
Although times have changed and there is a massive coaching and back-up team the captaincy is still an important catalyst to the success of the team - think Martin Johnson in 1997.
One of the immediate legacies from 1966 was that measures were taken to prevent the formation of national cliques. In 1968 we changed room-mates every week and I never roomed with another Welshman. In 1971, Mervyn Davies and I, who had roomed together for three years with Wales, were allowed to share for the final four days of the tour but, again, you changed room-mates as you changed towns and it helped enormously with bonding into a team.
Gatland seemed to be inferring that the Lions would take on the identity of the nation providing most players and he did not want that to be the case if it were England. That should be the least of his worries.
Perhaps it is difficult for a coach who has never experienced it as a player to understand but you really do lose your national allegiance and take on a new 'Lions' identity as soon as you get together.
In 1997 Ian McGeechan went to town on this, hiring a professional team building company to oversee the first few days of bonding at their hotel in Surrey. It was fascinating to see sceptics like Jerry Guscott gradually buying in to it and nobody can doubt it worked.
Back in the dark ages there were no such luxuries but being together over a period - in our case more than three months - nearly always increased the respect for players from the other nations and resulted in lifelong friendships.
The other vital lesson is to go into the tour with an open mind as to your Test selection. There are usually a few surprises. Few would have given David Duckham a chance of forcing his way into the Test side in 1971 ahead of the barnstorming, John Bevan. He did it by sheer brilliance and determination and so impressed the Welsh boys, we have called him Dai ever since.
So, no need to worry Warren. One of the most rewarding things since the game has gone professional is how much being a Lion still means to the players and they all understand they are part of a completely new international team even if you don't.
The tone of the tour, the discipline and the ethic is down to you and Andy Irvine and the England shambles might even help your cause. From all the quotes over the last few days those involved are thoroughly ashamed of what went on.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh
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