Calls grow for Scott Robertson to join Lions after loss to Springboks
The Lions lost their first series in 12 years on Saturday when the Springboks beat the tourists 19-16 in the third and decisive test in Cape Town.
It is the first time Lions boss Warren Gatland has suffered a series defeat as head coach of the touring side after having guided them to a series victory over the Wallabies in 2013 and a series draw against the All Blacks in 2017.
Shortly after the completion of the most recent series, speculation brewed over whether Gatland will return for a fourth consecutive tour at the helm of the Lions when they travel Down Under in four years’ time.
The ex-Wales and Ireland boss, who will return to New Zealand to resume his post as Chiefs head coach in Super Rugby, revealed after the loss to the Springboks that he hasn’t given any thought to taking charge of another Lions tour, although he didn’t rule out second trip to Australia.
However, former England and Lions playmaker Stuart Barnes says the Lions should call time on their long-term association with Gatland to make way for another well-regarded Kiwi in the form of Robertson.
Writing for The Times, Barnes said he felt the “joyousness” of Robertson’s coaching philosophy that has proved so successful at the Crusaders in Super Rugby would be a welcomed addition to the Lions, who have played conservatively under Gatland.
The former 10-test England international, who toured with the Lions to New Zealand in 1993, added that while Scotland boss Gregor Townsend would be a frontrunner to replace Gatland, he “achieved nothing” in his role as attack coach in South Africa.
Instead, Barnes wrote that he would like to see Robertson’s ex-assistant coach and current La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara rejoin his former Crusaders boss, who he worked under between 2018 and 2019, to take the helm of the Lions in Australia.
“The only coach with that joyousness is the Crusaders’ Scott Robertson. Ask him (and maybe steal him from under the All Blacks’ noses) and take Ronan O’ Gara as No 2,” Barnes wrote in his latest column for The Times.
“That’s a combination that would have beaten a Springbok team there for the taking.
“Let’s have someone who will breakdance when his team win, as Robertson does. Let’s have a coach who will install ambition rather than fear of failure. I’d sign Robertson tomorrow; the rest can wait two years.”
Question: Finn Russell starts in all three Lions Test matches – what’s the outcome of the series? ?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 8, 2021
Robertson, who has won five titles with the Crusaders since being appointed by the franchise in 2017, approached Gatland about joining the Lions as an assistant coach on the tour to South Africa last year after missing out as All Blacks head coach following the 2019 World Cup.
Eager to accrue more international coaching experience before applying for the All Blacks job when it becomes next available, Robertson said it was “highly likely” he would join the Lions for this year’s tour.
Such a move never transpired, though, and Robertson has since gone on to sign a three-year contract extension with the Crusaders and New Zealand Rugby.
Robertson’s current deal features an exit clause in 2024 should he again fail to land the All Blacks job, which he described in July as his “clear goal”, between now and after the 2023 World Cup.
Barnes, meanwhile, went on to thank Gatland for his contribution to the Lions, but said the former All Blacks hooker has plenty of work to do to with the Chiefs prove himself worthy of reappointment for the 2025 tour.
“Enough madness. Enough of all this ‘nearly the first Lions head coach to go unbeaten in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa’. His supporters say the results speak for themselves. Do they?” wrote Barnes in The Times.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 8, 2021
“To say he has unfinished business there is an understatement.
“In his first year back in Waikato he was overwhelmed by the ambition of the other New Zealand franchises. The Lion king lost all eight of his games in charge. In a country where skill and speed of thought counts for more than the suffocation that passes for test rugby in most other parts of the planet, Gatland was a loser.
“This season, in his absence, the Chiefs made the final of Super Rugby Aotearoa. Do the Lions want to appoint someone most comfortable with a negative type of rugby?
“The crushing conservatism failed, as did the selection policy. To try three different combinations in the centre in three tests is an indictment. Where was the steady selection hand on the tiller?
“Gatland is a proud Lion and a good man. But that doesn’t give him the right to manage the Lions in perpetuity. His record does not speak for itself.
“Four years is a ridiculously long time in sport. Four tours, on the evidence of the previous three, does not add up. If ‘the door is open’ it should be politely closed. It is time to thank him and move onwards.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now