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Training in sunglasses, golf simulators, casino nights and a fascination with The Inbetweeners - Gatland and O'Connell trade Lions stories

By Sam Smith

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Lions coach Warren Gatland has revealed the innovations of assistant Robin McBryde that have most caught his eye over the years, adding that he has sounded out the Six Nations teams about what they did in recent months to encourage squad bonding despite the restrictions forced on them by the pandemic. 

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Fresh from announcing his four-strong contingent of assistant coaches for the July tour to South Africa, Gatland appeared on the first instalment of Lions Live, the behind the scenes series hosted by David Flatman which aims to keep fans entertained via their Vodafone-powered Lions app.

Having chosen McBryde, Gregor Townsend, Steve Tandy and Neil Jenkins as his lieutenants for the tour, Gatland revealed that his first impression of ex-Wales hooker McBryde was very different from the huge esteem he now holds for the current Leinster assistant, someone he spent a long time working with in Wales.  

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Kurtley Beale guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload with Simon Zebo and Ryan Wilson
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“When he first arrived in 2007/08 and he had only just finished playing a couple of years earlier, I remember thinking, ‘Oh no, what have I got here?’ Over the last twelve, 13 years he has developed into such an outstanding forwards coach – he is so innovative. 

“He does stuff in training like having the music blasting to put the players under pressure, so you would have three or four seconds to make a lineout call with the music blasting, and trying to get guys communicating with headphones on and the hookers wearing sunglasses so they couldn’t see properly. Just different things that bring a bit of enjoyment and fun but also challenging people.”

Fun has always been a massive factor when Lions tours have gone well. Gatland was in South Africa in 2009 as an assistant before becoming head coach for the respective 2013 and 2017 tours in Australia and New Zealand. They were all popular trips due to the way the squad bonded but the freedoms the Lions enjoyed on those tours won’t apply in South Africa and Gatland has sounded out the Six Nations teams about what they did to lighten the mood of the pandemic restrictions in recent months.

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“We talked to the other coaches about what they did during the Six Nations in their own bubbles and some of them had golf simulators, they had card nights, casino nights, pool competitions, dart competitions, the Welsh boys had a Mexican night – so they have all be doing lots of different things in their own bubble,” enthused Gatland. 

Ex-Lions skipper and current Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell was also on the show with Gatland alongside England’s Emily Scarratt and ex-Lions boss Ian McGeechan.

The famed Irish lock, who believes Owen Farrell should skipper the 2021 tourists, recalled how a fascination with a TV series helped the 2009 squad to gel and come close to beating the Springboks in the series that was lost 2-1. 

“One of the highlights for me was The Inbetweeners had just come out and we were delaying training and stuff to watch episodes – the coaches were more into it than the players. I don’t think there is a team you need to be more prepared for than South Africa in terms of tactically what you are going to do.

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“You need a real plan of how you are going to beat them on the pitch, but unless there is a bit of glue holding the players together as well it’s not going to count for a whole lot – and those days watching The Inbetweeners in 2009 were great for us.”

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Training in sunglasses, golf simulators, casino nights and a fascination with The Inbetweeners - Gatland and O'Connell trade Lions stories

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