British & Irish Lions
Gatland rues missed chance to consult public
The East Terrace
May 3, 2013
Did Warren Gatland get the Lions selection wrong? © Getty Images
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has admitted his squad selection for the 2013 tour to Australia could have been far stronger had he listened to the casual rugby viewing public.
In an unprecedented move Gatland, currently taking a sabbatical from his role as head coach of Wales, sent an open letter to every national newspaper in the UK and Ireland to 'apologise for his short-sightedness' concerning the eagerly awaited squad selection.
The admission, just days after the 37-man touring squad for the ten-match tour of Australia and Hong Kong was originally announced, came after a barrage of criticism for the New Zealander from both the press and public.
"What was I thinking?" pondered Gatland as he surveyed one of approximately 40,000 newspaper headlines on Jonny Wilkinson not being selected for the tour. "Why did I think that I would know best? After all I've only won two Grand Slams, three English Premierships, the Anglo-Welsh Cup, the European Cup, the Parker Pen Shield and the Air New Zealand Cup.
"I should have listened to Toby Spencer of Richmond who had some great advice on Twitter regarding English backs. Or perhaps to James O'Connor in Limerick who had some superb and balanced views on the issue of the captaincy based on his run as skipper back as a twelve-year-old in the school cup."
Whilst the former All Blacks hooker takes the brunt of the responsibility, he has also implicated his management team in what he now sees in hindsight as a 'hugely arrogant mistake'.
"Looking back perhaps my coaching team should have flagged it," bemoaned Gatland. "Between the playing and coaching experience of men like Rob Howley, Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Neil Jenkins, you think one of them would have had the idea to let this great nation advise us on the best way to pick the squad. So what if we watch about fifteen games or rugby a week each?
"So what if we get detailed stats and analysis from a dedicated team of sports scientists and analysts? Who are we to think that that matters more than the semi-coherent ramblings of Paul Williams of Ebbw Vale who watches one and half games of rugby a week when in the local pub having a beer and a chat?"
Gatland's letter to the major national papers also included some telling statistical analysis on the nature of advice he could have tapped into:
"It goes without saying leaving Wilkinson out was my biggest gaffe," said Gatland. "Even though Jonny Wilkinson is technically unavailable to play for the Lions due to his contractual club commitments, and even though he stated to me personally that he did not think he was physically up to touring, I now accept I should have had more thought for the rugby fans of the Daily Mail and similar papers and picked him anyway.
"I fully respect those rugby fans who loyally watched English rugby in 2002 and 2003 I should not have dismissed their expert views. I must now accept any misfortunes that befall the Lions of 2013 without blaming anyone else.
"Similarly, all those classy , not at all chippy rugby fans who have never achieved anything in rugby and are now spitefully mocking honest, hard-working players like Chris Robshaw for not making the squad, perhaps their wisdom on rugby could have helped us make better decisions. Again, why did I not open my ears to their sage advice?"
Gatland has assured the rugby public that serious lessons have been learnt and the selection of any replacement players for the tour will be conducted openly, transparently and will be interactive.
"Once we get an injury, which sadly we have to expect," said Gatland. "We'll get an online Twitter poll going and figure out what the correct decision should be when sending a replacement out. Then we can tap into the nation's knowledge as a true collective. So get those thinking hats on everyone, we are in this together."
As of press time, Gatland had however refused to explain his decision to not take legendary Welsh fullback Mike Rayer to Australia as full back and back up number ten. Disappointed Rayer fans are hoping the Cardiff legend will be on the reserve list as making the 2017 tour looks an increasingly remote prospect.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.