Following on from the conclusion of the June test series where the northern hemisphere sides managed to somewhat bridge the existential gap left from the 2015 World Cup which separated world rugby, attention now is being turned to next summers Lions tour of New Zealand.
With the appointment of the Lions head coach being postponed to after the series which have just concluded, speculation is beginning to gain traction.
Having steered his side to an historic series whitewash of Australia many would feel that Eddie Jones would be the ideal candidate to take on the mantle. However the aussie has verbally ruled himself out of the role, declaring that his focus lies solely with England’s aspirations; yet with Jones having previously ruled himself out of jobs such as the England position in similar fashion, one would do well to watch this space.
If reports are to be believed, Joe Schmidt is on the verge of ending his time with the IRFU for either a rumoured return to New Zealand for a Super Rugby role with Highlanders being tipped as the potential employer, or a possible stint with the British and Irish Lions with a return to his current job following the conclusion of the tour.
Also Warren Gatland, who lead the Lions to their first test series victory in 16 years when they defeated Australia 2-1 in 2013; is being linked with the role. Opinion on Gatland’s potentiality is very mixed following Wales’ series whitewash defeat at the hands of the world champions. While some question the reasoning behind appointing a man who has just been well and truly dismantled by the All Blacks, others have found reason for his suitability due to displays of potential in the positive and expansive game which Gatland employed as he looked to take a turn away from the highly accustomed ‘Warren Ball’.
One such yea-sayer who believes that Gatland would be the ideal candidate for the Lions position is Lions legend of seven touring parties Sir Ian McGeechan.
Gatland worked under McGeechan during the 2009 tour of South Africa and believes that the gameplan in which Gatland is currently adopting is what is needed to dethrone the All Blacks atop there perch of world rugby:
“I think Warren Gatland will coach the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand next year and he knows that to beat the All Blacks you have to play differently,” he said in his Telegraph column.
“That is why Wales have tried to change their game by playing wider and quicker, with Taulupe Faletau in the wide channels and an attempt to get other forwards out there in those positions.
“But they need more shape in those channels and they do not have that because they do not possess the same variety of runners that New Zealand have.
“Gatland will know this and it will influence his selection. He will look at players who he thinks will have an open mind and can say, ‘Yes, I can play differently in a Lions jersey to produce this sort of rugby to trouble New Zealand.’
“He has got to do that. Playing set-piece rugby, or even-paced rugby, will not defeat the All Blacks. He put that on the table with his approach with Wales in this series. They tired badly on Saturday, but they have shown that it does take time to change and adapt.”
Whoever is selected for one of the most lauded coaching positions in the game of rugby union, McGeechan firmly believes that they will have a monumental challenge on their hands as the All Blacks are still years ahead of the home nations:
“There is no doubt England have been absolutely outstanding in winning 3-0 in Australia,” he said.
“It is a magnificent achievement, but the truth is that they are still some distance behind New Zealand.
“In fact, I would say they are two years behind the world champions.
“New Zealand are still ahead of England and everyone else, simply because of their all-court game.
“Even with the great players they have lost, I think they have already shown that they can still play that game where they are so comfortable in the wide channels and they are so good and accurate with their offloads once they get on the front foot. There is a collective reaction to find the players in space.
“You can also see their intent to play when they disregard the hooter at the end of a half or at full time. They just keep going when other sides would just kick the ball out and say ‘we have done the job’.
“No other team can match that intensity or commitment at the moment. You have to try to stay with them all the time and hope that the scoreboard falls your way at the end, because they will never let up and have a habit of scoring at the critical times.”
Whoever is appointed for the role will have a seismic task on their hands as they look to secure the first Lions series victory in New Zealand since 1971.