Former Ulster captain Mark McCall still in frame as Gatland plans more Lions staff
Warren Gatland’s coaching staff for the 2017 British and Irish Lions could yet grow after he admitted he is seeking an additional attack coach. Andy Farrell, Steve Borthwick and Rob Howley were all confirmed as assistants for the summer tour to New Zealand in Dublin yesterday but Gatland is still targeting someone to split the load with Howley.
Gregor Townsend had been sounded out about the position but chose instead to focus on his upcoming commitments with Scotland.
Both former Ulster captain Mark McCall and Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan have been linked with the role but Gatland ruled out the latter.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “I have identified someone I want to get. I am definitely looking for someone who is involved in the 15s game.
“I said from the outset it was important to have continuity because we need to hit the ground running, given the limited preparation time.
“In Rob and Andy, we have guys who understand the Lions concept, have worked together and know how to coach a winning Lions team.
“It’s also important to have some new input. Steve has done a great job in shaping the England pack and played a major role in their recent run of success, so I am looking forward to working with him.”
While speculation on whether McCall or another coach is to be added will continue, focus will soon switch to the make-up of the squad to take on the All Blacks which is announced on April 19.
“To name a squad now, I would probably get a list of 15-20 names with a good chance of going,” Gatland added. “That (autumn internationals) was the best the northern hemisphere teams have done in a long time versus the southern hemisphere. It was massively encouraging.
“South Africa, Australia and New Zealand normally come here and have pretty much unbeaten campaigns, and they go back spouting about how strong the southern hemisphere is. I think we should take a lot of confidence from the performances of the northern hemisphere teams.”
Ireland’s stunning victory over the World champion All Blacks in Chicago was the undoubted autumn highlight, with several Irish players producing outstanding performances.
“The guys who really impressed me that day were (scrum-half) Conor Murray and (centre) Robbie Henshaw,” Gatland said. “There is a long way to go. I could mention 10 or 12 names, but by the time the squad’s selected in April, someone could have overtaken them.
“Conor Murray is an integral part of Ireland. He’s probably been one of the most improved players over the last two or three years.
“Back in 2013, he would probably have been the starting nine if there was another (Lions) Test. He went out there as a No.3, and ended up being No.1.
“You want good people and good characters. You want people who will fight for their positions. How do you handle disappointment? You always get one or two disgruntled players who feel like they haven’t had the opportunity.
“I saw that in 2013. There was one player pretty disappointed about not being picked for the first Test, and he threw his toys out of the cot, but regathered himself.”