2013 British & Irish Lions
'It was always going to be Gatland'
September 4, 2012
Warren Gatland alongside Sir Ian McGeechan back in 2009 © Getty Images
I wasn't hugely surprised when the new 2013 British & Irish Lions coach was named; it was always going to be Warren Gatland. He's the right man for the job - you look at his pedigree, his record over the years along with his ability to win things and you look at what's about and you keep on coming back to him. His coaching staff will be a vital element and he's got a good wealth of talent at his disposal and I genuinely feel that the way Australia are at the moment then this is as good a shot as the Lions will get at winning a series Down Under.
Now that Gatland's in the hot seat, his first priority should be nailing down his coaching staff. I think Rob Howley will probably stay with Wales but there are some other good guys out there. He'll need a team that's capable of dealing with the midweek side as well but you don't want it to become a separate entity. Leinster's budget is quite high but they have been the standout team in Europe for a number of years and they play a great brand of rugby so when filling that backs coach role then Gatland could do a lot worse than opt for fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt when tackling Australia. Alongside the pair, I think Graham Rowntree has been exceptional for England and obviously Shaun Edwards and Gatland have a strong relationship with Wales so he'll probably link up.
You look at Edwards' pedigree and he's a top defence coach, although he will probably be keen to ignore London Irish's performance at the weekend. But that heavy loss came right at the start of him trying to implement his strategy and the challenge for Edwards, from a Lions point of view, will be to decide what style of defence the team will play.
It will be easier and more forgiving to play a style of drift defence that is not as aggressive as the style they had at Wasps. That tends to need more time for the players to become accustomed to purely because a lot of the players don't play it as their primary defensive pattern.
But on a Lions trip you need inspirational coaches and characters and you need people who will get some response out of the players and get that extra 5% to make up for the fact that they haven't had the time working together that you'd usually get in a club or international side. And this environment is not only generated in the playing staff.
Ben Kay was on Lions duty back in 2005 © PA Photos
Away from the field the medics are also vitally important for that. The likes of James Robson, the Scottish doctor, have led the medical side on previous Lions trips alongside Phil Pask and then you have the fitness coaches - individuals like Craig White who have a lot of experience on Lions tours. They are the sort of figures I imagine who Gatland will be looking to bring in, they are more than just a fitness coach or more than just a physio - they give the team the necessary x-factor off the field. They are people with tried and tested experience of what it means to be on tour with the Lions and they are capable of creating the winning environment that is needed to keep the momentum and the morale up over the duration of their time away.
And I'm sure that Gatland won't make the same mistakes that fellow Kiwi Graham Henry was said to have made back on their tour of Australia in 2001. He's worked under Sir Ian McGeechan in 2009 as his assistant and he has learnt from the best. You speak to any of the players on that trip and they say it was one of their best rugby memories and they need to kick on from that now and come back as winners and also create that atmosphere that separates the Lions from anything else you do in rugby. I saw his quote saying he wants a squad of "good players but tough buggers" and he will want a group that will look to accomplish something that under normal circumstances they probably couldn't.
A Lions tour is something very special and I think Gatland will have learnt that from Geech but equally he will have learnt that from his own experiences and I'm sure that is what he'll look to bring to the tour.
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Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN