Warren Gatland insists the 2013 British and Irish Lions will be on red alert for an Australian dirty tricks campaign as they prepare to tackle the Wallabies on and off the pitch next summer.
The new Lions coach, who is not averse to some verbal jousting of his own, has pinpointed Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill as the likely ring-leader. Gatland claimed that O'Neill's behind-the-scenes complaints about referee Bryce Lawrence contributed to Australia's World Cup quarter-final victory over South Africa.
The Lions head Down Under for a 10-match tour that will climax in three Tests against the Wallabies - and Gatland will be on his guard from the moment they land. "They are masters at it and possibly the best one was John O'Neill, as a master of influence in certain things," Gatland said.
"I don't see any better example than how the (World Cup) quarter-final between South Africa and Australia was influenced. It was a master stroke. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that after Ireland beat Australia in that pool game, certain complaints were made about the referee (Lawrence), subtly and tactfully, and I think that had an impact on the quarter-final.
"We've got to be aware about what sort of things are going to be done on and off the field. I'm not decrying it - what he (O'Neill) did was absolutely outstanding for his nation."
Lawrence came in for stinging criticism for his quarter-final performance, not least from Springboks captain John Smit who said: "The one positive (of retirement) is that I won't ever have to be reffed by him again."
In 2001, O'Neill sought to counter the sea of red Lions supporters by handing out gold scarves and hats to Australia fans for the memorable Test series won, in the dying seconds, by the Wallabies. In the week of the 2003 World Cup final, an Australian newspaper urged fans to make noise outside the England team hotel and even set off fire alarms.
Gatland is expecting more of the same 'Pommie bashing' next summer, when the Lions embark on their 125th anniversary tour. "We're aware of the things off the field - giving out hats, jerseys and t-shirts, there's going to be an orchestrated campaign in Australia to build them up and potentially make things difficult for us," Gatland said.
O'Neill rejected Gatland's suggestion that the ARU had any influence over Lawrence's performance in the World Cup quarter-final. He told the Sydney Daily Telegraph the ARU had only made "inquiries about interpretations at the breakdown" following the Wallabies' defeat to Ireland.
"It's quite flattering for Warren to give us credit for influencing referees but the reality is we all know referees are beyond reproach," O'Neill said. "I would say we were a bit taken aback that Bryce Lawrence was given so many Wallabies games but ultimately, he did an outstanding job in the game against the Springboks."