The dust has almost settled on one of the most monumental test series of all time. Since the final whistle there have been headlines about the Lions going on the beers and a prop being arrested. But, as a whole, was the tour a success and most importantly was the coach, Warren Gatland, the correct choice?
The tour will be examined from several different aspects, including; the midweek games, the test series and the coach.
The Midweek Games;
The first of these games was against the New Zealand Barbarians. The Lions managed to squeeze through this one 7-13 and faced a media onslaught following this result. Now, this isn’t saying that this blog was exempt, but no one really reads this so what affect can it have? The criticism largely came for players in certain positions. For example; Stuart Hogg was extremely poor when you consider the standards he set himself during the Six Nations. George North was unconvincing in the loss to the Blues making several mistakes, along with fellow winger Jack Nowell. Throughout the midweek games the forwards weren’t dominant. Yes, they often were superior in the scrum and at the lineout, but were often poor when it came to driving mauls and when carrying the ball. This lead to lots of chopping and changing in the pack and it wasn’t really clear who would be starting the first test against the All Blacks at Eden Park.
Overall; the midweek games where unimpressive. Losses to the Blues and the Highlanders, in addition to an unconvincing performance against the New Zealand Barbarians filled the hearts of Lions fans with dread. But solid performances against the Crusaders, Chiefs and Maori All Blacks gave fans renewed hope giving us the belief that the Lions could come home victorious. These games were the ones that shaped the test side as Peter O’Mahony emerged as the player who would captain the Lions against the All Blacks in the first test.
The test series:
The first test was hotly anticipated, Peter O’Mahony was made captain by Warren Gatland to much fanfair. But, Lions fans were ultimately left disappointed. There was no fluidity within the side and the forward pack failed to dominate against the majority Crusaders, All Blacks pack who they had triumphed against in the midweek tests. In this test the Lions didn’t live up to the hype that they had created for themselves in some of the later midweek games. Changes were inevitable for the second test and they came good, the Lions won at a blustery Westpac Stadium 21-24, meaning it was all in the balance back at Eden Park. The game was set to be electric, supposed to be the best game of the professional era. It was a draw. The tour, for me, ended as a joke. A test series shouldn’t end in a draw, it makes all of the effort and all the build up seem worthless. I would like to say that the teams should play another game, but the northern hemisphere teams have been playing for virtually three years in a row. It’s probably about time that they had a rest. A reason that the Southern hemisphere players seem to play their best rugby during the internationals is that their domestic season is around four months, in comparison to the nine months of the Northern hemisphere.
The series was a success for the Lions as a franchise. Playing Australia has little importance anymore. Rugby Union is no longer in the top five sports in the country and allegedly ranks 18th in the most popular sports in the country, the Wallabies resources are dwindling and soon won’t be a driving force in world rugby, but a titanic test series against the All Blacks and in 2021 against South Africa where Union is number one can only be good for the Lions. Hopefully in four years the home nations will again join for a prosperous test series.
What is there to say about Gatland. Someone who has been the head coach for two series and only lost two games should be praised. But, Gatland is consumed by his own agenda and to his job as Wales coach. The crux of this is the call-ups to the squad that Gatland made. He called up four Welsh players; Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and Tomas Francis. His reason; they were geographically closer. It was embarrassing, especially for those players who merely made up the bench and didn’t get on the pitch. Speculation was that Gatland only called up the Welsh players to please the Welsh Rugby Union. In recent time his win percentage has dropped to around 49%, so in order to prove his commitment to the Welsh Rugby Union by blooding Welsh players for the British and Irish Lions. It makes me think that Gatland sees himself in the same light as Graham Henry. The Kiwi who took the All Blacks to the 2011 World Cup on home soil. Gatland maybe wants to follow the same path, and coaching the best that the Northern hemisphere has to offer against his home nation, and no doubt aspires to take Steve Hanson’s hot seat.
Gatland will go down as a Lions great. But really he did it all for himself.