Friday, 30 June 2017

Don't Rule Out Gatland Wellington Win

Gatland celebrates series win in Sydney 2013
Wellington offers Warren Gatland his best chance of redemption when the Lions take on the All Blacks for the second time in seven days. In what looks like an impossible task, Gatland will revel in the challenge and thrive on the fact that the odds stacked against him. The Lions are given no chance to avoid a white wash in this three-match series with New Zealand. However, such a view fails to acknowledge Gatland’s speciality, winning against the odds. Which was best exemplified in that final Test in Australia four years ago at the Telstra Stadium, when the Wallabies were deemed favourites for the final match against a supposedly weakened Lions. The pre-match view coloured by the absences of captain Sam Warburton, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, with the visitors desperate for an emphatic victory that would strike the 24 years of defeats in Australia from the record books. 

On Saturday, New Zealander Gatland hopes Wellington will be a repeat of another famous victory under his tutelage and a return of that spirit with his 2017 squad.

As a coach, he is famous for galvanising his players in the hour of most need. With Ireland, in his match in charge in Paris against France – a side who had already run rampant on their opening fixtures of the 5 Nations - Ireland just lost 18–16 defeat at the Stade de France. Then twon years later returning to Paris Gatland saw a hat-trick of tries from Brian O'Driscoll that brought Ireland to a 25–27 win and that first away victory in the French capital since 1972.

At London WASPS as Director of Rugby the cub won multiple Premiership titles; in 2003, 2004 and 2005. These included Wasps beating Northampton Saints in the semi-final in 2003 and again in 2004, while they also had to beat Leicester Tigers in the final in 2005. While in Europe, they won the 2002–03 European Challenge Cup, winning eight from eight matches, before beating Bath 48–30 away in the final. With their promotion, up to the Heineken Cup for the 2003–04 season, London Wasps clinched the title, losing only to the Celtic Warriors on their way to a 27–20 victory over French giants Toulouse. 

On returning to New Zealand to coach Waikato in the National Provincial Championship (NPC), Gatland led his side to seventh in the Division 1 table. However, under the new competition format, the Air New Zealand Cup in 2006, Gatland then took Waikato to the final of the 2006 Air New Zealand Cup, beating Wellington in the final 37–31.

In 2007, Gatland was named head coach of Wales and in his first game of the 2008 Six Nations Championship Wales beat England 26–19. Their first victory in Twickenham since 1988. This was followed by victories over Scotland and Italy/ After which Wales went on to beat Ireland at Croke Park 16–12, to win the Triple Crown. The first time Wales has held this trophy since 2005. In the final fixture Wales also beat France at the Millennium Stadium 29–12, to clinch their 10th Grand Slam.

In 2011 Gatland led Wales to fourth in the Rugby World Cup, winning three of their four Pool D matches; 17–10 win over Samoa, 81–7 win over Namibia and a record breaking 66–0 win over Fiji, their loss was a 17–16 defeat to the Springboks. Wales beat Ireland 22–10 in the quarter-final, but lost to France 9–8 in the semi-final. Wales were ranked fourth in the world, their highest ever ranking again under Gatland. In the 2012 Six Nations Championship, Gatland won a second Grand Slam in four years.

In 2009 tour of South Africa, Gatland was named as assistant coach, specialising as the Forwards coach under Ian McGeechan. He then was appointed Lions Head Coach for the 2013 tour of Australia. After winning the first test Gatland saw his Lions collect a defeat in Melbourne in the second test and so headed back to Sydney to win the series. But his preparations were to be filled with controversy after the decision to drop O’Driscoll adding to the week’s PR woes. Albeit it was the right decision based on the errors committed by the Irish centre in the second test. Then the victory in the final test secured that first series against the Wallabies since 1989 and the first series victory since the 1997 tour of South Africa. 

Before that third test in 2013, Gatland was heavily criticised by the amount of Welsh players in the match day 23 – a total of 11. Despite all the furore the Lions won the final test 41–16, which was a record winning margin for the Lions against Australia. He will be hoping to face the same criticism in Wellington this week with the same type of performance on the pitch.

British and Irish Lions:
L Williams, A Watson, J Davies, O Farrell, E Daly, J Sexton, C Murray; M Vunipola, J George, T Furlong, M Itoje, AW Jones, S Warburton (c), S O'Brien, T Faletau.
Replacements: K Owens, J McGrath, K Sinckler, C Lawes, CJ Stander, R Webb, B Te'o, J Nowell.

New Zealand 
I Dagg; W Naholo, A Lienert-Brown, SB Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, S Cane, K Read (capt).
Replacements: N Harris, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden, N Laumape.

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