Aging Lions maul coach Warren Gatland

June 19, 2017

Warren Gatland

 

In advance of Saturday’s test match against New Zealand’s All Blacks, [scheduled 24 June 2017] Warren Gatland, the coach of the British and Irish Lions is mauled in a bitter attack by Rugby Union pundits around the world, including former Lion players

Gatland’s heinous blunder

His crime? Dealing with a series of injuries to his squad, Gatland made the decision to call up additional support from members of the Welsh and Scottish teams, touring in the region.

A storm of protest burst out, led by England coach Eddie Jones, whose team is touring in Argentina, half way around the world. The headline Eddie Jones says what we have all been thinking about Gatland’s supposed call-ups sums up the nature of the ‘debate’.

Revenge attacks?

I was struck by both the ferocity and uniformity of the attacks. Gatland had triggered an avalanche of criticism. In some ways, this can be traced to disenchantment with Gatland, who will resume his role as coach to the Welsh national team after the tour.  Accusations of bias have followed Gatland from the outset of this tour against the world champions, who are odds-on favourites to win the three-test series.

His original selections were viewed as biased in favour of players he knew and trusted from Wales, and why strong candidates from England were omitted. The objections were mostly from the English media. Garland was criticized for Nationalistic bias, an ironic charge for someone of New Zealand not Newport Gwent roots.

Players omitted from the England squad were outspoken.

During the few weeks of the tour in June, tour criticism of Gatland built up. The coach was put on the defensive.

The emotional argument

So, returning the six replacements, the emotional argument against the extra six players can be summarized simply. Commentator after commentator echoed it:

 

“The decision devalues the Lions’ shirt

 

Few seemed to find it necessary to add (as Gatland found it necessary to point out) that the decision was reached  after long discussions by the international management coaching team of the Lions. Nor was there comment on how these players the pundits dismissed as not fit to wear the shirt might react, if their team mates on their arrival treated them as second-class citizens.

Historical baggage?

There seemed a lot of historical baggage about the media treatment of the story. For example:

England’s former Lion Jeremy Guscott found headlines in a half-time roasting of the Welsh team against Japan in the last World Cup. In particular, he blasted the Lions on the pitch.  Ironically, Wales upped their game against Japan, and Japan contributed to a display which led to the humiliation of England on home soil and the eventual appointment of new coach Eddie Jones.

Returning to the present controversy, even a Welsh rugby great has weighed in.

Jonathan Davies is a much-loved national figure who has suffered hardships and tragedy in his personal life with fortitude and public grace. His views are generally forthright and honest. He again took the devaluing the Lion shirt line.

Putting my frayed academic nightcap and bed socks on, and supping my Ovaltine, I suspect each player is demonstrating the core issue of social identity. Pundit Guscott now preserves his aura of greatness earned as a Lion through the symbolism of the brand. Davies never achieved the honour of playing for the Lions, as he made the painful decision to leave the amateur game of Rugby Union to support his family as a rugby league player, returning later as professionalism entered the Union code.

Gatland’s stubborn streak

There is a well-known streak of stubbornness about Gatland, although no more than the one apparent in the public pronouncements of Eddie Jones.

The test series may well be lost to the mighty All Blacks. If so, it would be helpful to conduct post-mortems in a more clinical fashion than the ‘expert’ diagnoses to date.

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‘England aim to trample over New Zealand on road to world domination’ and I am writing this from a new pram on the planet Zog

November 16, 2013

Child's pramA Guardian Sports Writer reaches new heights of irony in his pre-match analysis, or is he in need of serious new medication?

On the eve of the 2013 England v New Zealand rugby union international, the Guardian’s Rugby Union Correspondent Robert Kitson offered a remarkable analysis of what might happen. The article stands for itself but I couldn’t resist adding a few comments of my own.

The surge

Stuart Lancaster’s young side are surging up the world rankings and victory over the All Blacks may send them to a new level

[This is true. The surge has taken England from sixth to third in the rankings during the period when the New Zealand All Blacks comfortably retained the number one slot.]

It could be different …

What price would the bookies be quoting, if Alex Corbisiero, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Marland Yarde and Christian Wade were all fit? Instead Paddy Power has England at 13-2 with the All Blacks 1-9, reflective of the home side’s imperfect build up.

[So the bookies think the victory somewhat unlikely, offering odds of 9 to 1 on for an All Blacks victory despite England’s aim to trample them.]

England coke?

Nobody yet knows whether Stuart Lancaster’s new England are the real thing, or some other brand of cola.

[Nobody except our insightful Guardian columnist]

The Emperor’s new strip

Those who reckon they are overhyped and got lucky a year ago are still out there. If the English lose by 20-odd points it will be seized upon as proof that the Twickenham megastore is flogging the emperor’s new clothes.

[Not to mention the Guardian’s megastore? My previously private view was that England should be pleased if they keep the deficit in the match to less than 20 points.]

Lucky All Blacks

What if New Zealand are actually the lucky ones, fortunate to catch England’s fledglings now before they soar to a different level?

[Hard to fault this brilliant logic. The momentum is well and truly on Mr Kitson and England’s sweet charioteers.]

It’s the ref wot done it

England are an increasingly tough side to shake off in the final quarter and the referee, Craig Joubert, cannot possibly be as generous to New Zealand as he was in the fateful 2011 World Cup final against France.

[Ah, yes, New Zealand are the world champions because of a dodgy French-speaking South African referee who should have gone to Spec Savers. An easy obstacle to brush aside.]

Swing low, sweet chariot, bloo bloo chocky wocky

Either way, it will be closer than last time. New Zealand must remain favourites by virtue of their 12 straight wins this year. But England are more composed than 12 months ago and 13 is not always the luckiest of numbers.

[And I am writing this from a pram swinging softly in the breeze from a tree on the planet Zog, while plotting England’s rightful domination of the world of Rugby Union down there.]

Humble pie

England nearly fulfilled their dreams, losing narrowly. My remarks were shown to be unworthy. Well done England.


Haka demonstration of leadership style

September 10, 2011

The rugby world cup in New Zealand provides much food for thought about leadership processes, including the symbolism of the ceremonial Haka performed at the opening ceremonies and before the host country matches

The Haka may be seen as a modern and symbolic representation of an ancient perception of a leader as someone who channels the spirits of the supernatural world to inspire the actions of the people or tribe.

Later, the behaviours were described as charismatic and in the nature of a special gift from the Gods.

The appeals to social cohesion and committment is retained in the pre-match inspirational urgings of the captain, and sometimes of the coach.

To be continued


The Irish Grannies strategy at play but Wales gets to keep Tongan Toby

June 17, 2011

Toby Faletau

The question of nationality has always been a part of Rugby Union. The All Blacks of New Zealand played it to effect with various Tongans and Samoans. The Irish have developed ancestry claims as tenuous as that of American Presidents to prop up their national team. Now it becomes part of a battle for the services of two players who have defected from the Welsh camp having played for the Welsh Under 20s team.

My second favourite team

Ireland happens to be my second favourite Rugby Union team, after that of Wales. It gave me no pleasure to read a fascinating story about a row brewing up between the rugby authorities, as reported in Wales on line.

Background

Toby Faletau is unwittingly at the centre of an eligibility row between Wales and Ireland. The Wales No 8, who made his debut against the Barbarians a fortnight ago, finds himself embroiled in an eligibility dispute which the International Rugby Board has been asked to rule on. Two of Faletau’s Wales Under-20s team-mates, Matthew Jarvis and James Loxton are dual-qualified for Wales and Ireland.Former Ospreys back Jarvis and [Cardiff] Blues rookie Loxton agreed contracts with Irish province, Connacht, earlier this year only on the understanding they were eligible to play for Ireland

Turns out that Tongan Toby was brought up in Wales (so he’s Welsh, see?). But Matthew has an Irish mum and James has an Irish grandmother. These claims have been accepted as part of Ireland’s Grannies strategy. But as happens in things Celtic, it all got a bit more complicated.

The Under-20s is not the A team

Acute readers (and which LWD subscriber is not acute?) will have noticed mention of the three playing for the Welsh Under-20s team. So Wales get to keep Matthew and James? No, because The Under-20s is not the A team.

Irish club Connaught snap up the two on the understanding that Under-20s play is not automatic recognition of a claim on nationality.

The WRU claim that the Wales Under-20 side is now their second-string side, with the A-team being disbanded, and that any player who plays at that level commits themselves to Wales. But it is claimed that Faletau, who was born in Tonga but has resided in Wales since the age of seven, was the only player told his appearance for Wales Under-20s committed his Test future to Wales. While Loxton, who qualified for Ireland through his mother, and Jarvis, who qualifies via an Irish grandmother, claim they were never told playing for Wales Under-20s committed them to Wales.

Creative strategy needed

Anyone with suggestions or a creative strategy for resolving this issue get in touch with the Irish or Welsh rugby union boards according to your nationality.

Update [Nov 2011]
Toby Faletau was one of the stars of the successful Welsh team in the World Cup in New Zealand. His international future looks rosy (but definitely not Irish green).

Update [Jan 2012]

A similar case bubbles up over the nationality and international status of Steve Shingler, hotly persued by Scotland and Wales.