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David Wallace gives his opinion on players’ criticism of Warren Gatland’s Lions tactics

David Wallace Lions

David Wallace believes that recent player criticism of the British and Irish Lions’ tactics may be borne out of frustration with their standing in the squad.

The Lions were heavily criticised by pundits for how they approached their test series against the Springboks during the summer, with a number of players also coming out in the months after the tour to express their frustrations with the team’s tactics.

Young Wales winger Louis Rees-Zammit is the latest to do so, while the likes of Finn Russell and Iain Henderson have also questioned whether they played into South Africa’s hands with a game plan focused on physicality and tactical kicking.

Wallace, who toured with the Lions in 2001 and 2009, was speaking at the launch of Canterbury’s new Ireland Rugby Heritage jersey, argued that Lions players complaining about tactics is nothing new and that the intense environment in which they are potentially outshone by their team mates contributes to overall dissatisfaction.

Player criticism of the Lions’ tactics on tour.

“The first tour I got out on was 2001. It was the week before the first test and there was a very funny mood in the camp,” Wallace explained.

“When I arrived into camp I thought this was going to be the peak of everything. But the moaning and the giving out and even in the press in the media – what came out that week was just mind-boggling. These players are used to being the best player in the team usually at club level, then into provincial level and international.

“Suddenly it comes to the Lions team and when it comes to the tests they’re not wanted. I think maybe sometimes it’s just hard to cope with that. No coach is going to get it 100 per cent right and I think this Lions tour just gone was the most challenging they’ve ever had with Covid and all that.

“It’s already a bubble and the media hype around it [makes it difficult] but when you throw Covid in and not being able to leave your hotel or room complex, you don’t want to be the one who’s bringing back Covid and all that angst around that too.

“It’s just an increased pressure cooker of intensity and I’m sure it was hard to be really high-performing in that sense because players aren’t going to be happy. Certainly towards the end and they’re going to start criticising certain things. But, looking at the tactics, he probably does have a point in that.

“I think we played into South Africa’s hands. You want to play a different style to them. You don’t want to get into an arm wrestle with them and it looks like that’s exactly what we did. Whether that was by design or just default and how it occurred on the field, I don’t know.”

David Wallace on Warren Gatland’s coaching style.

Wallace played under Warren Gatland when the New Zealander was Ireland’s head coach in the early 2000s, as well as when he was the Lions’ assistant coach on the 2009 tour of South Africa.

Gatland is one of the most experienced rugby coaches in the world, having taken charge of Wales for more than a decade as well as taking the reins on the Lions’ last three tours.

In Wallace’s experience, Gatland is not one to allow players to question his tactics, which the former Ireland player believes would be a difficult style of coaching to implement on a Lions tour in particular.

“I think he’s very sure of the game that he wants to play. I think there’s probably very little challenging that. You’re kind of told more than asking for opinions because look, if you do start asking for opinions across 45 different players or whatever it is you’re going to get 45 different answers,” Wallace said.

“So I think the coach does have to have an idea of how to play. He can take some bit of steering from a leadership team but it’s tricky in a Lions situation where probably a lot of those players think they’re leaders and how do you form a team there without signalling that ‘This is the test team,’ etc.

“Maybe that’s down to the coach to open up to players and have those opinions but in the Lions you’re very confined in what you can do in a short space of time so if you have a talking shop around what you want to do then that’s probably quite difficult to do because so much preparation has gone in before the players even get there.”

‘I think there’s something special about it.’

The Lions tour disappointed many fans for failing to clinch a series win against the reining world champions, and for the unattractive style of rugby that was on display in the three tests.

The likes of Ronan O’Gara admitted in the build-up to the final test that he wasn’t excited to see the Lions and Springboks duke it out for a third time, an opinion which seems to have been held by many at the time.

Wallace acknowledged that this year’s Lions tour wasn’t as entertaining as previous iterations but still holds the occasion close to his heart.

“It’s a special thing and it’s unique in world sport in some ways and it’s every four years, I think there’s something special about it. I still watched every game and I was glued to it. But I’d agree that it probably didn’t have the lustre of previous tours,” Wallace commented.

“But that’s maybe just as a result of the environment we were in at the time. But I still love it and it’s still going to be a great institution for many years to come.”

Canterbury, the official kit partner to Irish Rugby, has revealed the new Ireland Rugby Heritage jersey, inspired by 2003’s classic strip. The Heritage jersey is available now via Intersport Elverys in store and via, and on

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