Warren Gatland was announced as the 2021 British and Irish Lions coach on Wednesday, revealing one of rugby’s worst kept secrets.
The Wales head coach was all but confirmed months ago, but now it is official. After leading the Lions to a series win in Australia in 2013 and a drawn series against the All Blacks in 2017, it was always the logical choice to appoint Gatland to complete the trilogy in South Africa in two years’ time.
After securing his third Grand Slam this year with Wales, and with other contenders such as Joe Schmidt and Eddie Jones distancing themselves from the role, it was Gatland’s for the taking.
Although Gatland has done nothing in the past four years to lose his post with the Lions, former Ireland international and 2009 Lion Luke Fitzgerald highlighted on Twitter that the idea of the tour is to have variety.
The 34-cap international said that Gatland is a “great coach – but the whole idea is the cross-pollination of ideas and experiencing new rugby philosophies.”
He also said that the idea of the Lions tour would not be as exciting for Welsh players, who have been coached by Gatland since 2008.
Does nobody else want the Lions gig or is just Gatland’s until he decides he’s had enough? Great coach-but the whole idea is the cross pollination of ideas and experiencing new rugby philosophies.Imagine it’s not that exciting for Welsh players like Alun Wyn/Leigh Halfpenny etc
— luke fitzgerald (@lukefitz11) June 12, 2019
Gatland is not the first man to coach the Lions for three consecutive tours, as Ian McGeechan did in 1989, 1993 and 1997. However, McGeechan coached different teams between those tours, reducing the likelihood of this staleness that Fitzgerald is alluding to.
Come 2021, Gatland would have been away from Wales for almost two years as he moves on after the World Cup this year. This suggests that it will not be the same as the previous two tours for the Welsh players.
Warren Gatland and BIL are back on media duties after the Head Coach announcement for the 2021 Tour of South Africa pic.twitter.com/OLIw4vhyXm
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 12, 2019
Nonetheless, Fitzgerald is right in raising the point that Lions tours are about the fusion of ideas and styles from different coaches and players, which is limited by having the same person four eight years.
This point is particularly important when it comes to the style of rugby that Gatland encourages, which has always been criticised for being defensive.
However, his track record of producing match-winning teams in a short period of time simply cannot be overlooked.
WATCH: Episode six of Don’t Mess with Jim, the weekly RugbyPass series hosted by former Scotland international Hamilton
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