Wednesday 21 February 2018

Comment: The Lions is meant to unite rather than divide - real rugby fans should remember that

New Zealand's Warren Gatland, the head coach of the British and Irish Lions, is pictured before the start of the Rugby Championship match between Argentina's Los Pumas and New Zealand's All Blacks at the Jose Amalfitani stadium in Buenos Aires, on October 1, 2016. / AFP / JUAN MABROMATA
New Zealand's Warren Gatland, the head coach of the British and Irish Lions, is pictured before the start of the Rugby Championship match between Argentina's Los Pumas and New Zealand's All Blacks at the Jose Amalfitani stadium in Buenos Aires, on October 1, 2016. / AFP / JUAN MABROMATA

Daniel Schofield

The pitchforks are being sharpened and the angry mobs swelling ahead of the Lions squad announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

Already we have learnt from my colleague Gavin Mairs that a clutch of England’s back-to-back Six Nations winners will not be boarding the plane, chief among them Jonathan Joseph, George Ford and Joe Launchbury.

Sadly and somewhat predictably this has been greeted in parts by unrestrained vitriol. Forget the Mother Of All Bombs, check Twitter at around 12.05 on Wednesday to witness the explosive power of social media.

There is no problem with Warren Gatland’s selections provoking talking points – that’s what we in the media have been feeding off for the past couple of months – or good-natured debate. The variety and scale of opinions is what makes the Lions such fun.

Unfortunately that fun element is spoilt the moment the personal and nationalistic attacks are unleashed.

Context will be quickly forgotten as poison-ladened keyboards are pounded. Firstly, I don’t believe Gatland will be selecting the best players in every position. Clearly he has been devising a strategy over the past 12 months to defeat the All Blacks, which may for example involve selecting Ben Te’o ahead of Joseph at outside centre.

Secondly, he will need a quota of good tourists. Was Matt Stevens the second best tighthead available to Gatland in 2013? No, but he was exactly the type of easy-going, upbeat character that was needed to offset the many prima donnas in the squad.

Short of selecting a squad of 75, there is no way that Gatland will find a way of appeasing all nations and factions and even then some dark conspiracy will be aired. The English angst at Joseph’s exclusion will be matched by Irish anger should Garry Ringrose fail to make the cut. Scotland beat both Ireland and Wales in the Six Nations but their representation is likely to be a third of their Celtic cousins. If Ken Owens is the fall guy in the race for hooking berths then expect accusations of reverse-bias from the Valleys.

After the last Lions series in which personal attacks on Gatland reached a fever pitch for daring to drop Brian O’Driscoll for the final Test – a decision for which he was subsequently vindicated – it would be nice to think that people may pause before proclaiming that a coach of 28 years’ experience knows nothing about rugby.

Agree or disagree with his selections – and undoubtedly I will dispute a handful of selections – the founding principle of the Lions is that it is meant to unite rather than divide. At a time when the country's politics is overflowing with rancour, I just hope that is remembered by real rugby fans on Wednesday afternoon.

Telegraph.co.uk

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