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Warren Gatland – the right man for the job

When Graham Henry took the Lions to Australia in 2001 there were problems, big problems. The squad was disjointed, there was a bit of a bias towards Welsh players, there was then a falling out when those players weren’t picked. It all just didn’t seem very ‘Lions’.

In short, Henry didn’t get it.

Yet he was the overwhelmingly popular choice, the man for the job, Wales’ ‘Great Redeemer’ who was going to do for the Lions what he was doing for Wales. A top class New Zealander, bringing a top class New Zealand attitude to Welsh rugby.

Sound familiar?

Of course it does, for Henry of 2001, read Gatland of 2013., but there is a key difference between the two, one that Gatland alluded to in his press conference today. Gatland gets it.

He spoke of playing against the Lions in 1993 and his realisation back then of just how special the Lions are. He reflected on his experience in 2009 and his observation of just how important the experience was to players and coaches alike – anyone who has seen the DVD of the tour will be under no illusions as to how serious Gatland is about that Lions jersey.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, Gatland went to South Africa in 2009 with Ian McGeechan. There is no better man to leave a mark on you when it comes to the unique quality of the Lions than McGeechan and you can bet your house that he was one of the first calls Gatland made when he was offered the role.

There were a few other candidates, Joe Schmidt of Leinster maybe, Andy Robinson possibly – but the Lions management were astute, they saw the effect the 2009 tour had. They realised the need for continuity from that most epic of series.

Which means the Lions have a man in charge who understands the history of the side, who senses the emotion that goes with it, and who believes in what they stand for – old fashioned rugby values.

He will have learnt from 2009 that what counts with the Lions is making them a team, you only have a few weeks you can’t coach them fully in that time. What you can do though is give them a cause and a purpose, something to give them unity. A sense that they are a part of a greater being, that their spell in a Lions shirt fleeting and must be seized.

That is why ‘getting it’ matters.

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