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Why Eddie O'Sullivan says he has 'lost respect' for Lions boss Warren Gatland

By Ian Cameron

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Former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan says he has lost respect for British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland after a string of interviews in which the New Zealander has fired off at the Irishman.

Gatland and O’Sullivan infamously didn’t get on during their short-lived time together in the Ireland set-up between 1998 and 2001. O’Sullivan, once his assistant, would eventually take over the reins from Gatland, but not before their relationship soured considerably.

In an interview with RugbyPass last year, Gatland went as far as suggesting that O’Sullivan’s relatively modest post-Ireland career after a successful stint with the national side was a result of poor people skills. “Look, it was tough when I was replaced by Eddie O’Sullivan. I have always said that technically he was a good coach but I’d question some of his man-management skills.

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“When I look back now, there has been only one winner in that debate,” Gatland said. “When Eddie finished with Ireland, he struggled in jobs and found it difficult to get coaching positions.”

In 2017, Gatland relayed an anecdote about O’Sullivan following Ireland’s famous win over France in 2001.  “Donal Lenihan said to me a number of years later, the day that Brian [O’Driscoll] scored the three tries and we beat France in Paris for the first time in 27 years – Donal said to me ‘I want to tell you a story about that day’.

“He said ‘I’ve never told you this’, and I said ‘Oh, what’s that?’ He said that we were in the changing rooms, and everyone was celebrating and having a good time, and Eddie was sitting in the corner.

“So Donal went over to him and said: ‘What’s wrong with you, why aren’t you celebrating?’ And Eddie said to Donal, ‘Ah, this means Gatland’s going to be in the job for another two years.’

“When I got told that, when Donal told me that story, it kind of summed up a few things.”

In an interview with TheXV.rugby recently, O’Sullivan said that the 2017 comments Gatland had led him to lose respect for Gatland.

“The thing I find extraordinary about this,” says O’Sullivan, “is that Warren has said this kind of thing in interviews; he said it on Off The Ball too. We have met and spoken on a couple of occasions since 2001. But everything he has said publicly, he has never said to my face. I’ve lost respect for him for doing that.

“I’d respect him more if he had confronted me. But by speaking about me publicly, when I’m not there to defend myself, it says more about him than it does about me.”

Although their paths will likely cross behind the scenes in the close-knit world of rugby union, it is unlikely they will ever face each other as coaches again, with O’Sullivan more frequently found in front of the camera than coaching, while Gatland is likely to return to New Zealand after the Lions tour.

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