x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Heat is on ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour

Pressure is on both coaches ahead of the three-match series in the summer.

Warren Gatland is leading the British & Irish Lions this summer.
Warren Gatland is leading the British & Irish Lions this summer.

It is 16 years since the British & Irish Lions beat South Africa 18-15 in Durban to clinch a series victory over the then world champions.

The Lions have lost their past three tours, winning just two of nine Tests, and the pressure is on Warren Gatland, the head coach, to ensure this summer's trip to Australia is not a disappointment.

Gatland himself acknowledged that the Lions need better results on the field to justify their existence after their recent failures.

"For the Lions to be successful as a brand they've got to start winning some tours," he said last month.

"All the discussion after the 2005 trip to New Zealand was of wondering if the Lions were dead and would they be scrapped."

The New Zealander is also under the microscope as it is not just his performance with the Lions that will be judged, but how Wales fare in his absence.

Gatland has stepped away from his position as the Wales coach for the Lions tour, with Rob Howley standing in as the caretaker coach of the Six Nations champions.

A poor series of autumn internationals, highlighted by a loss to Samoa, did not help the view that Wales miss Gatland, and if they struggle in their defence of the northern hemisphere title next month even more grumbling is likely to be heard.

A triumph in Australia and coming back as the first Lions coach other than Ian McGeechan to win a series since 1974 would at least justify the disruption that his absence has brought to Wales.

The one bit of good news for Gatland is the opponents. He would not acknowledge it, but considering just how well New Zealand (their implosion at Twickenham against England apart) are going, and the strength of South Africa, getting to go to Australia is a bit of a result.

If Gatland is under pressure, the strain will be double on Robbie Deans, the Australia coach.

A mediocre Rugby Championship did not help, and inconsistency and issues off the field have dogged the Deans reign, with the fact he is a New Zealander brought up at every opportunity by a frustrated Australia media and ex-players.

There are occasional glimpses of brilliance from Australia, as their battling 18-18 draw with New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup in October showed, but Deans needs a strong 2013 to show he is the man to take them to the next Rugby World Cup.

A series loss to the Lions would be unacceptable.

The summer will be fascinating for the fact there is so much at stake for both Gatland and Deans.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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