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Gatland will need good men as well as good players Posted about 1 year ago

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Twelve years ago I took the Lions to Australia. It was a great honour and a privilege, but looking back on it now I realise that I wasn’t ready. I thought it was as simple as picking the best players and getting them to do the job. But I was wrong. Character is a huge part of the success of a Lions tour.

You need men who will back the test team. Back in 2001 I thought the management would be able to handle individual egos, but it didn’t work out that way. As I explain in my book ‘Final Word’, some of the players who weren’t in the test team caused a great deal of trouble for everyone.

If I had that time over again, I would pick my best 23 players regardless of character, and the remaining 13 would need to balance the personality of the group.

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Things can change. In 2001 I was happy with my best players. I had talked to Ian McGeechan who was very positive about Martin Johnson’s abilities as a captain. He had stature and presence. And he turned out to be a hell of a captain. I enjoyed working with him. He had the respect of the players.

But problems arose because of the amount of injuries we had and the character of some of the fringe players. I had naively assumed that all the players would understand the Lions concept and put the team first. That wasn’t always the case with certain individuals.

I picked solely on talent. I don’t expect Gatland to make the same mistake. He has far more experience than I had. He has coached Ireland, Wales, Wasps, Grand Slams and he has a marvellous record.

In all likelihood he will pick his best 23 and then look very seriously at the rest of the tour party in terms of personality and character. He will want players who can help out the test team even when they know they won’t be playing.

There will be a crisis or two on a Lions tour there always is. In 2001 we took Lawrence Dallaglio, a world class player, because the medical opinion said his knee would heal in time. He lasted one game. We lost Richard Hill before halftime of the second test. Dan Luger went on tour as the form winger with Jason Robinson and didn’t play a game. Hooker Phil Greening broke his leg before the first game.

Things will go wrong. Four years later there was all the fall-out around Brian O’Driscoll. It is how you handle these things that matter. At the last World Cup the All Blacks lost Dan Carter and two other first fives. Our captain had a broken bone in his foot. But you can’t let these things interfere. They can’t become an excuse for not winning.

You have to stay together and support each other when the bad stuff happens, because one thing is certain – bad stuff will happen. That’s why the character of the ‘dirt trackers’ is as important as the talent of the test team. That’s why Warren Gatalnd will want good men as well as good players.

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A Test Squad of 22 and a ‘Midweek Squad’ of another 22 has been shown to be divisive. Better to take a First XV with 2 replacements in each position and the opportunity to be reconsidered as first choice, second choice or third choice on regular performance indicators such as the ‘midweek trial’.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 1 year ago

Many supporters were surprised when Ryan Jones was not initially selected for the 44 man squad for the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. Ryan was later called up as a replacement for the injured Simon Taylor. After his performance in the 30–19 win over Otago he was selected for the squad for the first test, came on as a replacement and went on to start in the final two tests. Graham Henry has argued for strength in depth for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

“You need men who will back the test team. Back in 2001 I thought the management would be able to handle individual egos, but it didn’t work out that way. As I explain in my book ‘Final Word’, some of the players who weren’t in the test team caused a great deal of trouble for everyone.”

By covering each position with three players and taking a squad of 45 to Oz, the Lions can achieve that strength in depth. However, the second and third choice players for each position must accept that they are there for one purpose only – to help the test team beat Australia – and that they might not get a game if the players that they are ‘injury’ covering remain injury free. ‘Injury replacement’ players must not be allowed to disrupt this tour as did Graham Henry’s ‘midweek’ team in Australia in 2001: they must be told from the outset that their main job is to be fit and on standby to serve as a replacement for the British & Irish Lions Test Team (and bench) – should they be required. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” – John Milton.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 1 year ago

Graham you are now vastly experienced and very successful. Its great to read your thoughts. After the All Blacks win in the WC final a lot of players were commenting to the media that they wanted it more. How important is this level of Desire?

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Australia about 1 year ago

Very interesting points, especially about the need for a very experience4d coach

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 1 year ago

A very interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing this.

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Canada about 1 year ago

A perfect argument for strength in depth from the greatest rugby guru of all time. The message to me appears to be to pick three players per position, put XV on the field, 8 on the bench, 13 in no doubt that they are there to offer tour support and 9 informed to be on injury replacement stand-by in the UK (or why not Oz?) as fit-and-ready injury replacements: a very professional attitude.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland about 1 year ago

Great blog Graham. The biggest thing I remember about that series is that you almost had it in the bag but as you say a couple of key players like Hill and Dallaglio were sorely missed. Even more though was the fantastic sight of this kid called Brian O’Driscoll carving the Aussies up (especially in the first test) who will surely go down as one of the best centres if not the greatest centre to have played the game. Pity you had a couple of Tossers in the squad – we all know who he/they are.

Looking forward to your battle with Wayne Smith and the Chiefs ths coming weekend. The second half against the Warratahs was awful – big collissions but someone just needs to learn how to hold on to the dam ball.

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New Zealand about 1 year ago

_Richie McCaw on Graham Henry:_ He is never happy where we are at. He always has somewhere to go, always looking to make improvements. He has watched a huge amount of rugby and is not afraid to trial ideas from other teams. That’s his huge strength. He sees the big picture, plans a whole campaign. He is motivated by a huge desire to see the All Blacks win every test and the World Cup.

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