Wednesday 20 September 2017

Gatland clings to his paddle as Death Valley approaches

Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O’Connor at the rafted falls near Rotorua where he found himself in the creek but, thankfully, near a paddle
Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O’Connor at the rafted falls near Rotorua where he found himself in the creek but, thankfully, near a paddle

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Hamilton

The first boat over the 7m waterfall was made up of two Englishmen, one Scotsman and this Irishman; all paddling in unison and with a common purpose.

Nothing establishes a pecking order like the world's largest commercially rafted falls, located near Rotorua.

Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O’Connor at the rafted falls near Rotorua where he found himself in the creek but, thankfully, near a paddle
Irish Independent rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O’Connor at the rafted falls near Rotorua where he found himself in the creek but, thankfully, near a paddle

Everyone expected boat No 1 to flip - some called it an impossible mission - but instead the combination somehow kept afloat.

Even though your correspondent was tossed into the Kaituna River, he calmly collected his paddle and swam back to his team-mates, to be hauled ashore into the warm embrace of a former Scottish prop from Rugby World magazine.

In adversity, the Test team had emerged. Next over was an Anglo-Welsh contingent, but there was no sense that these Fleet Street big hitters were pulling together as they approached.

The raft was doomed from the moment it hit the surf and once it flipped, the fractures in the team were exposed as they scrambled for the shore, leaving the man from The Mail in the 'washing-machine' beneath the falls.

LEFT WING LIVE: Luke Fitzgerald is joined by Hayden Triggs to discuss how the Lions can beat the All Blacks

Posted by Independent Sport on Monday, June 19, 2017

Scrambled

Boat No 1 scrambled to rescue him and then his paddle, but the dirt-trackers had made themselves known.

Then came a bunch of tourists who, by dint of their timing and proximity, had managed to get on the same trip. Nobody knew who they were and unsurprisingly their bid to stay afloat was unimpressive; they left without making an impact and may well have been called into the Lions squad the next day.

To continue to butcher a motif, Warren Gatland still has his paddle - just. This week, he heads for rugby's Death Valley, Eden Park, and the choppy waters threaten to engulf him.

The steam that rises from the volcanic springs on the road from Lake Taupo to Rotorua have nothing on the hot air that emerges from the New Zealand Herald every morning, as Steve Hansen conducts his proxy war through the pages of the national daily newspaper.

This, remember, is the publication that mocked Michael Cheika and Gatland up as clowns in recent times and while the country has been opening its doors to the Lions and their fans, the publication has gone on to a war footing.

The people have been welcoming and earnest in their desire for the series to succeed with their team triumphing at the end; businesses the length of the North Island are hoping to cash in on the legion of fans arriving ahead of the Tests.

It's been quite a contrast in the media. The Herald's correspondents lurk at the back of press conferences silently, waiting to pounce on a stray Gatland comment they can use for their campaign.

The All Blacks coach is looking to set the agenda through the pages of the newspaper, while other commentators have been happy to row in and stick it to the tourists at every turn. It's all very transparent. It is a phony war ahead of the real event, but Hansen puts huge value on these public exchanges and has been carefully baiting Gatland in the hope of finding sensitive spots.

He landed a blow by predicting the controversial call-ups and put his own spin on things, predicting a split camp that was, of course, lapped up by the local media.

After three weeks of getting it in the neck over here, the decision to pick six Yellow Pack Lions to fill bench spots in Test weeks has brought the wrath from home.

Gatland stands accused of devaluing the jersey by picking on geographical grounds over merit and he accepts this to an extent.

However, he is adapting to an unforgiving and unrealistic schedule and if he is successful in the Test mission no one will remember. He is back in his home town of Hamilton this morning, but his mind is already on Eden Park. This Chiefs game is a nuisance really, serving the purpose of giving the dirt-trackers something to focus on and little else.

Gatland kept his counsel until Saturday, when he fired a shot back to try and take control of his own destiny while others attempt to punch holes in his hull.

As for your intrepid rafters, they all got home safe and sound thanks to the good people at River Rats in Rotorua, who happily righted the ship when things went awry.

There will be no such bailout for the Lions as they enter sink or swim territory.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport