Though everyone should be talking about a dominant win against the Maori, Warren Gatland’s selection shockers have overshadowed a solid Lions’ performance.
The British and Irish Lions forward pack dismantled the Maori in Rotorua. They had 76 per cent territory, 68 per cent possession and did not lose a lineout or scrum all evening. Ultimately a 32-10 scoreline did not flatter and was a fair reflection of the game, particularly the second half.
But make no mistake, the Maori were a quality side and the likes of Peter O’Mahoney, Sean O’Brien and Jamie George deserved all the headlines. Instead, thanks to Warren Gatland and his coaching team, the goodwill produced by that performance has almost disappeared.
A storm is now raging in the British and Irish media as well as among most fair-minded rugby fans in the northern hemisphere.
The decision to select four Welshman to join the touring squad is an affront to the famous strip. It is demeaning to the very ethos of the British and Irish Lions concept.
Supposedly the Welshman were picked largely because they were close by and wouldn’t need to acclimatise to the time zone, yet that fails the most basic scrutiny. Scotland, who finished above Wales in the Six Nations tournament, were busy beating Australia in Sydney on Saturday, which is hardly a long-haul flight from Auckland.
England, who have won the past two Six Nations quite convincingly and also beat Argentina with effectively a third XV last weekend, would happily have released players seven days ago to assist with jet lag. Players like Chris Robshaw and Joe Launchbury must be absolutely filthy.
As Eddie Jones said, “When you become a Lion you are remembered for life. My only comment would be, I would like to see it picked on merit rather than geographical proximity.”
Hardly rocket science. To pick any Lion, replacement or not, on the basis of anything other than merit is a disgrace.
It was also supremely arrogant for Gatland to pull such a shocker in circumstances where he has been widely criticised for a perceived Welsh bias. He made Sam Warburton, a fine player with very little playing time over the past two months, tour captain.
Two other Welshman were selected as match day captains before the coaching staff wisely awarded Peter O’Mahoney the honour against the Maori.
Rob Howley, the Lions backs coach who also happens to be Welsh, has been widely ridiculed and criticised for his lack of imagination and his references to ‘rugby chaos’.
Brian Moore, the influential English rugby commentator and ex-international, has suggested all travelling supporters should take their boots in case a call up due to close proximity occurs.
Austin Healey, of 2001 Lions ilk, has put forward Welsh singer Charlotte Church as next on the list now. Her picture has appeared, complete with face swap, in a Lions jumper.
What effect all the furore will have on the players and squad is anyone’s guess, but I doubt it will be positive. There must be many Lions scratching their heads and privately discussing the treatment of their English, Irish and Scottish mates.
Gatland really has lost the plot – from a selection standpoint at least – and we should all be hoping he finds it again quickly before what is shaping as a very interesting tour is tarnished.
The performance against the Maori was an excellent one and showed the difference between the mid-week and Test strength Lions side. Doubts remain about whether the Lions can ‘strangle’ the All Blacks in the same manner that they did against the Crusaders and Maori, but I am sure the All Blacks took notice of those performances.
Key players such as Kruis, O’Brien, Sexton and Te’o all grew into the game and got valuable match time under their belts. Peter O’Mahoney is the revelation of the tour so far and could well be named captain for the first Test.
Or at least he should be – but of course, he isn’t Welsh.