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Upbeat Gatland promises a tour de force with vital roles in mind for all his players

 

By Jack Austin

Upon arriving in New Zealand, Warren Gatland was quick to draw on the mistakes of past British and Irish Lions tours for inspiration on what not to do during his second stint as head coach.

"He lost half the team on day one."

That was Gatland's cutting analysis of Graham Henry's 2001 tour when he indicated from the outset of the trip to Australia which players were there for the Test matches, and which were there to make up the numbers.

That was a mistake followed by Sir Clive Woodward in 2005 in New Zealand, the last time the Lions toured there, who, by his own admission, was "the wrong man for the job".

The Lions were whitewashed on the disastrous tour which began with captain Brian O'Driscoll spear tackled out of the tour in the first minute of the first Test.

Former Wales and Lions winger Shane Williams remembers that tour well, if not fondly, for the same reasons Gatland looks back at the 2001 tour so negatively.

"On the 2005 tour I think there was a segregation between the Test-starting side and the weekday teams which didn't work," Williams said. "I think that getting the players together and going on the Lions tour the preparation wasn't right.

"You add that to the fact you are playing the All Blacks and you're playing tough matches week in, week out. It just didn't work."

Williams is a veteran of three Lions tours, after being called into the 2013 squad for one game only as players began dropping like flies, as well as playing a key role in the 2009 tour, which the Lions really should have won.

What the 2009 tour to South Africa and the 2013 triumph did teach Williams though, is exactly what went wrong under Woodward and it was a lesson in how not to coach a Lions squad.

"In 2009 with Sir Ian McGeehan and Warren Gatland and these coaches, it was more of an emphasis on enjoying the experience and getting the players together, having roommates, involving everyone in everything that the Lions did and almost taking the tour old school and enjoying yourself socially, as well as just on the rugby field. It was far more relaxed and obviously we didn't win the series despite the fact we should have and I think that kind of was taken to the next Lions tour in 2013. The lads worked for each other, the camaraderie was great and they went on to win the series.

"I don't see it being much different this time around with Warren Gatland. Socially he enjoys the lads getting together and enjoying themselves off the field as well as on the field and I think that's the right way to go about it."

One thing that Williams stresses is the importance of unity while on tour - something which is often difficult to ascertain given there are 41 players who barely know each other except for the times they were trying inflict a bruising on during the Six Nations.

In 2005 Wales' record try scorer saw no unity and only divide, between those involved in the Tests and those to be involved in the midweek tour matches. There was no cohesion, no togetherness.

There were suggestions that Gatland could employ a midweek captain alongside tour captain Sam Warburton, but Williams insists that only caused more problems with many on the tour feeling "it just wasn't right".

"From 2005 when we did split teams with a Test captain and a midweek captain, it just doesn't feel right. Having been there in 2009 and 2013, I certainly felt more comfortable when the lads were together and we did things together off the field and we did things together on the field.

"Of course, you're going to have to split the teams when it comes down to training and selection because you do have midweek matches. However, the Lions is all about togetherness and keeping everyone motivated off the field, enjoying themselves socially, whether it's going for food or beer or doing activities.

"It's doing it as one squad. I found that in 2009 and the lads said it worked in 2013."

Given the Lions' brutal and bruising schedule, Gatland will need every member of his 41-man squad to learn from past mistakes he warned about. makeup.

Belfast Telegraph

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