Warren Gatland revealed his back-room staff for next summer’s Lions tour earlier in December. This is how it looks:
There’s been generally a positive response to the team that’s been announced, but some critics are pointing at Rob Howley’s involvement as potentially being a weak link. Howley was involved as a coach on the last Lions tour, which was a success, but many see Wales’ poor performances this November as an indication that Howley is unsuitable for the role this time around. I also understand that Ireland’s Joe Schmidt and Glasgow’s Gregor Townsend – both outstanding coaches – turned down the opportunity for this role, opening the door for Howley. Personally, I think Howley will do a great job, and thrive in the Lions environment.
Andy Farrell also toured last time. I bumped into him in a lift in the Celtic Manor on the day of the last ever Heineken Cup Final in Cardiff, the day after my best mate’s wedding. We had a very brief chat, and he seemed like a top bloke. He was there to watch his son Owen Farrell play for Saracens that day. Andy Farrell has made a real mark as England’s backs coach, and has them brimming with confidence. He will bring this confidence to the Lions team.
Steve Borthwick is new to the Lions environment, but has featured as forwards coach for England for all 14 undefeated tests in 2016. That statistic speaks for itself. He will bring steel and grit to a forward pack which will need to stamp their authority over the All Blacks.
Meanwhile, with Warren Gatland and Rob Howley both away with The Lions, Wales have announced an exciting, new-look back-room staff for their tour of the Pacific Islands. As part of the WRU’s program to develop elite-level coaches in the interests of the national team, interim Head Coach Robin McBride will be joined by Blues’ Danny Wilson and Matt Sherratt, as well as ex-Wales and Scarlets fly-half legend Stephen Jones. Jones is one of my all time favourite players. Emily and I also had the good fortune to meet him many years back, at his book launch in Stradey Park, Llanelli. He is a top bloke, fair play. And with 107 Wales caps, as well as a handful of Lions test caps, he truly is a legend of the game.
I really like the idea of bringing regional coaches on board as assistants for Wales matches. With less than three years remaining of Warren Gatland’s Wales contract, it is very important we develop enough coaching talent in Wales so there is a highly competitive list of candidates when recruitment begins. I think this combination of coaches for the Wales tour looks very strong, and suggests to me that Wales are very much looking to focus on developing their attacking play. I do feel that a representative from Ospreys coaching team should also be involved if possible, given that Ospreys have been scoring tries for fun this season.
This is an innovative approach from the WRU, and I think it’s a huge step in the right direction.