Warren Gatland has named his first British and Irish Lions starting XV of the 2017 tour of New Zealand and as is the way of things, you just can’t please everyone.
With a selection that appears to strike a balance between presumed Test starters and midweek players, Gatland has named a strong XV to take on the Provincial Barbarians on Saturday.
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 1, 2017
Having only landed in New Zealand on Tuesday, the Lions must attempt to hit the ground running and establish the coherence of an international side that has been playing together for years.
With notable omissions such as Owen Farrell, CJ Stander and Maro Itoje, the New Zealand media has taken a look at the first Lions XV named on their shores in 12 years and they are suitably unimpressed.
According to Stuff journalist Mark Reason, Gatland’s selection is a ‘shambles’.
On paper perhaps, the Lions boss appears to be reverting to type and is looking to his big ball carriers to plough through the middle, something Reason points out by the inclusion of the English pair Ben Te’o and Jonathan Joseph at centre.
“The opening selection of the tour is a shambles.
“The early signs are that Gatland will try to take on All Blacks’ skill and speed with British biff and blunder up the middle.”
While ‘Warrenball’ worked against Australia four years ago, many feel that the same hard hitting ball carrying tactics will come up woefully short against the All Blacks.
Speaking to former Ireland international and member of the successful Lions side of 1971 Mike Gibson, the Stuff reporter expresses the view that Gatland is missing an opportunity to give his expected Test starters some invaluable game time together.
“A couple of days ago I was talking at length to Mike Gibson, the brilliant Ireland midfield back who played outside Barry John in 1971, the only time the Lions have won in New Zealand. Gibson told me, “It takes five games to get into a tour, to read your colleagues, the lines they run, how they react in situations. It’s not easy to achieve that potential.”
“Gatland does not have five games so it is paramount that he finds his combinations as quickly as possible. Gibson would like to see Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell together at 10 and 12, but if that were going to happen, then Gatland has missed the perfect opposition to pair them in the first game.”
Ultimately, in Warren Gatland the Lions have a successful coach who led them to a series victory in Australia four years ago. While the Wallabies were undeniably poorer than expected, the New Zealand native knows how to win and Lions fans will be hoping for more of the same over the next five weeks.
Having a squad of 41 fit and healthy proven internationals is always going to result in a match day selection that has some surprises. However with a game every three days from now until the first week of July, squad rotation is going to be key.
All eyes are now firmly fixed on the tour opening clash with the Provincial Barbarians and while nobody expects every question to be answered, fans and pundits aligned to both camps will be looking to see just how fresh the Lions’ legs are after a long season and how cohesive they are as a side of newly bonded brothers.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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