'The Lions have unfinished business'
December 12, 2012
Graham Rowntree with his 'mentor' Warren Gatland © PA Photos
Lions coaching duo Graham Rowntree and Rob Howley are adamant that they have "unfinished business" with the historic side after they were part of the coaching team that saw their side slump to a 2-1 series defeat to South Africa in 2009.
Rowntree and Howley have both played for the historic side with Howley having toured in 1997 and 2001 and Rowntree having got the nod in 1997 and 2005. The pair were both part of Sir Ian McGeechan's backroom staff for the 2009 series in South Africa and took in the pulsating defeat to the Boks in the second Test match in Pretoria. The result consigned the Lions to yet another series defeat with their last triumph having come in 1997.
And Rowntree is hopeful that the painful loss to the Boks in 2009 will spur the Lions on to a series win this time around. "Unfinished business? There's an understatement from 2009," Rowntree said. "That second Test, the emotions of that game will live with me forever. We did a job in terms of the first half as a forward pack and then we lost Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones and that changed everything.
"It was going to be a famous victory. We were winning until the last few minutes in Pretoria and we had it taken away from us. It's the first time I'd seen grown men cry in the changing room after the game. It was a massive roller coaster and there's definitely unfinished business.
"We're due a series win aren't we? Where we are now, with the players we can pick, and the continuity that we're able to bring in terms of the coaching plus the injection of people like Faz [Andy Farrell] with that passion and energy, I think now is the time. Now is the time to win a Test series.
"Just talking about it all now is making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up," added Rowntree. "I was thoroughly delighted to get the call from Gats and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a special time a Lions tour and it's a special country we're visiting as well. And having just faced Australia in the autumn series, we all owe them one. I learnt a lot from Warren in 2009 and I've kept in touch with him since. I like to think of him as a mentor.
"There's a massive consistency there on the coaching staff. I've kept in touch with those guys, just picking their brains on things - not sharing too many secrets about England and Wales, obviously, but we understand how one another operates. You move on very quickly and we've had a lot of things going on on the domestic front with England, but the Lions is always at the back of your mind.
Rob Howley is looking forward to working alongside Warren Gatland once again © Getty Images
Howley toured with the Lions the last time they took on the Wallabies and he is hopeful that the team comes through for their first Test series victory on Australian soil since 1989. "The goal is to emulate 1989 and 1997," Howley said. "Whilst winning that last Test out in South Africa in 2009 was obviously pleasing, the ultimate is to win a Test series. Hopefully that will come in 2013.
"Defeat in the second Test in South Africa three years ago was hard to take and I'm so glad I've got another opportunity. That feeling at Loftus was a feeling that I never want to experience again. The win in the third Test put the Lions on the front foot. It was huge to beat South Africa in that last Test and that's where we'll want to start when we get together in May.
"I'll never forget my experience of running out in 2001 at The Gabba and seeing a sea of red and Martin Johnson coming back in to the changing room and saying we're not going to let those guys down today. And we didn't, but unfortunately we let them down in the series. We were too good to lose that series but it's another one that got away.
"We need to win this series and I'm sure the coaches and the players will do everything they can to make sure we come back from Australia with that series win."
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