Sunday 16 December 2018

Gatland hits back at Sean O'Brien and questions his preparation while also opening door on Lions return

The head coach claimed O'Brien's criticism would be harder to ignore if he was 'the most professional player on tour'

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland in attendance at the announcement of the British & Irish Lions Squad for the 2017 Tour to New Zealand at the Hilton London Syon Park in Middlesex, London. Photo by Paul Harding/Sportsfile
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland in attendance at the announcement of the British & Irish Lions Squad for the 2017 Tour to New Zealand at the Hilton London Syon Park in Middlesex, London. Photo by Paul Harding/Sportsfile

Jack de Menezes

Warren Gatland has hit back at Sean O’Brien after speaking to the British and Irish Lions player following his criticism of this summer’s tour, with the New Zealander questioning the flanker’s preparation and asking if he is really in the correct position to criticise his methods.

O’Brien offered a damning verdict on Gatland and his coaching staff following this summer’s drawn Test series against the All Blacks, with backs coach Rob Howley coming in for the harshest criticism. The Leinster and Ireland back-row claimed that the Lions should have beaten the reigning world champions 3-0, and felt that Gatland’s and Howley’s methods had cost the tourists a series whitewash.

But after contacting O’Brien directly to talk about his public outburst, Gatland has issued a firm response, and while he did not mention anything specific, the Wales head coach did point to O’Brien’s “pretty abysmal” injury record over the last few years.

“My thing to Sean is, if he can look himself in the mirror and say ‘I was the most professional person on tour, on and off the field, in New Zealand’, in terms of the way he prepared himself, then I think his points would be more valid,” Gatland told the Daily Mail.

“I was disappointed with his comments. I thought him coming out and saying we should have won 3-0 was pretty disrespectful to New Zealand. That's where he lost his credibility.

“He came out and he was critical but what was his solution? There was nothing. It was words without a solution. If you are going to come out and say something, give us what the answer is.

“When I spoke to Sean last week I said the ironic thing was that he came to us injured at the start of the tour and his injury record over the last number of years has been pretty abysmal in terms of getting a string of games together.

“I reminded him that in his interview, he said he was in the best shape of his life during the Tests so we must have done something right surely. And he said: ‘I never thought of that’.”

With Gatland set to release a new book titled In The Line Of Fire, he also appeared to perform a U-turn on his claim last week that he will “never coach the Lions again”, having “hated” this year’s tour as opposed to the 2009 and 2013 trips to South Africa and Australia respectively.

Gatland was the target of a number of attacks in the New Zealand media, with the Kiwi mocked up as a clown on the front page of one newspaper and a separate report claiming he would intentionally target his son, Bryn, because he was the weak link in the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in the tour’s opening match.

However, after admitting that he was speaking straight from his frustration with how he was received in the media back in his homeland, Gatland did stress that his days with the Lions may not be completely over.

“It's a hard job to turn down and walk away from,” Gatland added. “I made those comments about not wanting to do it again because I was pretty hurt.

“There is a cynical part of me that thinks let someone else go and do it and when he fails people might say ‘Oh, actually, it's a little bit harder than I thought it was’.

“As far as me coaching the Lions again, never say never. There is a lot of water under the bridge. The way I was feeling when I said what I said.”

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