Paul Cully: I felt for Robbie Deans in 2013 and I feel for Warren Gatland in 2017

Warren Gatland is hugely respected in the northern hemisphere but his tactical approach is far from universally loved.
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Warren Gatland is hugely respected in the northern hemisphere but his tactical approach is far from universally loved.

OPINION: The 2013 British and Lions tour was about the knifing of former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.

The history books may have recorded a 2-1 victory for the Lions but for those of us covering the series from an Australian point of view the game within the games was Deans' future.

He entered the series under immense pressure on the eve of the final test in Sydney, with the series at 1-1, the grapevine was buzzing about how Deans' fate was already sealed.

Jamie Roberts of Wales has long been a Warren Gatland favourite.
GETTY IMAGES

Jamie Roberts of Wales has long been a Warren Gatland favourite.

This was the environment in which Deans was trying to win the series. I felt for him. By the third test he had become the story, not the Wallabies.

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There is a different set of circumstances for Warren Gatland before this Lions tour but he enters this series with his own baggage. While he is respected in the north his methods are not universally loved.

Robbie Deans and Warren Gatland shake hands at the end of the 2013 series.
GETTY IMAGES

Robbie Deans and Warren Gatland shake hands at the end of the 2013 series.

Gatland has never been able to shake the 'Warrenball' criticism, that he favours brute power over skills, and as Gatland prepares to announce his squad at 11pm on Wednesday, NZ time, there are strong indications that Gatland will go down that path again.

George Ford and Jonathan Joseph - England's most creative backs - look set to be omitted while the bruising Ben Te'o appears to be on the plane.

More tellingly, Welsh battering ram Jamie Roberts looks certain to be named.

In one sense Roberts' maturity and experience make him the perfect tourist but on the other he represents everything that Gatland's critics have come to dislike - power over craft, size over skill.

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It is the sort of selection that can become a lightning rod for the disgruntled. 

Already, the Scots must be furious. Stuart Hogg is apparently their sole representative.

Gatland will be savaged by his critics if the tour is not a success because the expectations on these Lions are twofold.

First, there is the belief that it is good enough to really push the All Blacks. Second, there is optimism that Gatland has enough quality at his disposal to ditch the Warrenball crash and bash and play with width and ambition.

Realistic or not, pundits and supporters want the Lions to come here and express themselves. My own view is that Six Nations showed up some attacking limitations in the north but that is a hard sell when Ireland beat the All Blacks in November and Eddie Jones has England rising with Joseph at No 13 and being compared to Jeremy Guscott. 

Gatland is a big boy, of course, and he can dish it out as well as take it. Critics will rightly point out that the coach must lie in the bed of his own making.  

But criticism in the modern world is ubiquitous and takes no rest.

It can affect family. More than one person has told me that it was Deans' wife, Penny, who was most affected by the vitriol he faced in Australia.

Indeed, when I look back at the my memories of the 2013 tour there are four standouts, the last of which relates directly to Gatland and criticism.

First, Deans' politeness to hotel staff in Brisbane, away from the cameras, which said a lot about him personally at a time of professional pressure.

Second, Wales fans hanging over terraces of pubs in Brisbane, belting out song after song.

Third, the class of Sam Warburton in the press conference following the second test, a narrow Wallabies win.

And fourth, the funereal atmosphere at the Lions press conference following the third test, when an ashen-faced Gatland said the criticism he had copped for dropping Brian O'Driscoll had taken the gloss off the series win. 

That was after a victory in 2013.

In 2017 Gatland may need shoulders broader than the Waikato River.

* Stuff will have live coverage of the naming of the Lions squad from 10.30pm.

 - Stuff

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