x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Lions coach Warren Gatland wants a team with thick skin like his

Warren Gatland does not have to pick his British & Irish Lions squad right now. And that is a stroke of luck, given this week's dithering, explains Paul Radley.

Warren Gatland wants his British and Irish Lions team to be prepared for a rough reception from both their opponents and the local media in Australia.
Warren Gatland wants his British and Irish Lions team to be prepared for a rough reception from both their opponents and the local media in Australia.

Warren Gatland does not have to pick his British & Irish Lions squad right now. Which is a stroke of luck, given this week's dithering.

One minute he is not keen on having many Englishmen in there, because of all the fuss they will cause. The next he would be happy to have 15 of them in the starting line-up. Maybe there is a happy medium somewhere in between? The New Zealander was upset that his view earlier this week about minimising the English quota in order to limit exterior distractions around the Lions had been "misrepresented".

Gatland was quoted as saying they would be targeted by the Australian papers, that they are not popular abroad "because of the history" and that "people like having a pop at them". That did not go down well with anyone, but you can understand what he was driving at.

One benefit of having a southern-hemisphere coach is that he knows how they will be perceived on tour. Some will certainly see them as a ready target.

And if any Lions players start tossing dwarfs in Lan Kwai Fong or Kings Cross this summer, it will rather detract from the mission. Gatland knows what a media circus looks like. He has coached Gavin Henson - and very cannily, too - after all. When Henson was on his game, he was worth all the extra baggage.

Which goes to show, Gatland's latest statement that it would be "morally wrong" to pick anyone but the most deserving - no matter their nationality - will be the fail-safe game plan of all.

pradley@thenational.ae

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