Once every four years something wonderful happens, no it’s not the Olympics or the Rugby / Football world cups. It’s something where old enemies make peace with one another to take on an even bigger foe from South of the equator. This special thing is full of history and creates legends, the mention of it has brought people to tears. If you become part of it you are a member of a very elite club that no one can remove you from. This is the British and Irish Lions.
After touring Australia in 2013 and winning the series 2-1 for their first test win since the 1997 tour to South Africa which contained luminaries such as Jeremy Guscott, Matt Dawson, Gregor Townsend, Keith Wood, Martin Johnson and Neil Jenkins. The anticipation is high for how they will do against the men in black with the silver fern emblazoned across their chest. The Lions is like no other experience in rugby as the Touring with the Lions 97 documentary will show you. The squad needs to break down any barriers they might have as quickly as possible and the best way to do this can be through what is described as an ‘old school’ tour outing. But who sets the precedent for this? The players themselves? Yes some people are definitely more squad men who will help to create the culture from the previous tours set forward Jason Leonard, Keith Wood and Simon Shaw. The Captain? Undoubtably Sam Warburton from the last tour would have contributed but he would have also been the coaches voices in the group making sure the players are on task. The coaches? Yes Warren Gatland would have driven the culture along with his assistants and he knows exactly how special a Lions tour is having lead one and been assistant on one. He also knows getting the correct coaching team together is a must. Here is who I think will be his lieutenants this time round.
Warren Gatland – Been there on two tours and done the unthinkable and won a test series. He will be itching to put one over on his country of birth. People are suggesting Eddie Jones but he has declined and wants to spend his time rebuilding England.
Gregor Townsend – One of the most mercurial players of his generation, what he has done at Glasgow has been remarkable and has resulted in him signing up to be the next Scotland coach once Vern Cotter leaves. He has toured with the Lions and knows what it takes for them to win.
Paul Gustard – Harsh on Gatland’s old mucker Shaun Edwards but Gustard has shown to be able to take defences to the next level with his work for Saracens and England. Players love what he does and he brings in something unusual to keep their minds on the task at hand.
Simon Easterby – Not an obvious choice but if you look at the work that Ireland did in their summer tour to South Africa with a lot of their starting forwards pack missing you can’t help but be impressed. They managed to gain parity with what is a very powerful from five.
Neil Hatley – Englands scrum was dismal at the world cup, but during the six nations and summer tour it has only been on an upward trajectory. Ian Peel has had a big role to play in this but Neil Hatley is the man for me.
Neil Jenkins – He has toured with a winning Lions side and coached on a Lions tour, he was the all time record points scorer for Wales, he was deadly with the ball from hand or from the tee. Gatland has him in the Welsh setup already. He has to be involved somewhere.
With the Lions series being in 2017 it seems like a while away but the head coach is getting announced today and I can start to hear the Lion waking from it sleep getting ready to roar.