It is D-Day for the British and Irish Lions when they take on the Australian Wallabies today. The test series is tied up at one all and the final game will be played to decide the series in Sydney tonight.
This game though could ultimately mean so much more than simply ending a 16 year drought in terms of series victories, it could see the Home nations end the employment of an overseas coach on Lions Tours.
Current coach Warren Gatland is the second foreigner to coach the British and Irish Lions after fellow countryman New Zealand’s Sir Graham Henry having coached the Lions on their unsuccessful 2001 tour of Australia. Henry has admitted that he never really understood the tradition of the British and Irish Lions and that was why they reverted to home grown coaches in 2005 and 2009 to New Zealand and South Africa. Clive Woodward’s 3-0 drubbing in New Zealand was a direct result of him holding onto to too many ageing England players from his victorious World cup team, so Ian McGeechan was recalled to coach the South African tour where they lost the series 2-1.
Gatland is a popular coach and his resume is impressive, but there are rumblings from inside of the United Kingdom that such a role should stay within the home nations in future; but the home nations need to produce coaches of a suitable calibre.
Going into the final test Warren Gatland has fallen back on the players he knows so well picking ten Welshmen in his starting line up and one on the bench. Many of these players will have, like their Welsh counterparts in New Zealand in 1969 suffered painful defeat to the Wallabies in recent years by the smallest of margins. He will hope to draw on the pain of those defeats as Carwyn James did in 1971 with a large percentage of Welsh players in the side that defeated the All Blacks.
Mind you Jones had some very special players on whom he could rely, names such as Gareth Edwards, Barry John, John Dawes, JPR Williams, Mervyn Davies and Gerald Davies. The latter is travelling with Gatland’s Lions and hopefully he can inspire this generation of Lions to achieve a famous victory.
Should they fail one feels it may be another 12 years before we see another non-British coach given the reins of the team.
Interestingly Sir Graham Henry came out this week to suggest the Lions Tours be shortened and that they play less midweek games, as he felt it was the injury toll that has been to blame for the Lions poor return in terms of results. “We had eight players fit on the Tuesday before the third Test in 2001.” He said. Maybe only with hindsight does he realise the importance and the tradition of the British and Irish Lions, which he described as “phenomenal.” It is good to see him trying to protect that legacy.
Now, let the game begin…