'It really, really hurt' - Warren Gatland responds to Sean O'Brien criticism and says he is done with Lions
Warren Gatland has revealed that Sean O'Brien's attack on his methods during the summer tour of New Zealand has helped convince him to never again put his name forward to coach the Lions.
The Irish flanker questioned Gatland's preparation leading in to the first Test in particular, and also criticised the ability of the Lions attack coach Rob Howley. It was the final straw for Gatland, who admitted last night that he "hated" the tour of his home country.
Gatland ranks alongside Ian McGeechan as the most successful Lions coach in the professional era with a series victory in Australia in 2013 and a drawn series against the All Blacks this summer, inflicting on New Zealand their first defeat at home in 48 Tests when winning in Wellington.
Yet, O'Brien believes that the 2017 Lions should have beaten the world champions 3-0.
"I don't know what planet he is on saying that," said Gatland, who previously had not ruled out a shot at coaching the Lions in South Africa in 2021.
"Those comments were disrespectful to New Zealand.
"I hated the tour. I just hated the press and the negativity in New Zealand. I'm done (with the Lions).
"When I look back on it now, there were a lot of things that were satisfying and what an achievement it was, but it was tough work."
Gatland added: “You watch how hard the coaches and the backroom staff worked – they worked their absolute nuts off – and then to have someone (O’Brien) come out and make a comment like that... it really, really did hurt.
“I wouldn’t subject myself to that again. It took the gloss off the tour.”
There has been no direct contact between Gatland and O’Brien, even though the Wales head coach left messages with the Leinster back-row immediately after the Irish international made his unsolicited comments last month.
“I rang and left a message to say I was disappointed,” said Gatland.
“He texted me three weeks later to say that he had just cleared his voicemail and that he had been taken out context.
“I texted to say he could call me at any time but I’ve not heard back from him.”
There has, though, been communication between Howley and O’Brien.
The Irishman reserved his most stinging rebuke for the former Wales scrum-half, who has also been part of the coaching panel on three Lions tours, stating that the likes of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell felt moved to take over the running of the show.
“As a coach, that is what you want,” said Gatland.
“You want to empower your most experienced players to take ownership, to take responsibility.
“When you coach a young side, you give them a lot of direction, a lot of information.
“The more experiences they get, the more you pull back. They are the guys playing the game. Ironically, I see that as a compliment.”
It is fair to say that Howley did not see it that way, and certainly not so in being singled out.
“It was disappointing highlighting one person,” said Gatland.
Even though there was a fair degree of truth in O’Brien’s contention that the players had felt “heavy-legged” going into the first Test, it was little surprise given the punishing nature of the lead-in to the series.
Gatland acknowledged as much in the post-match debrief with the players the following Monday and adapted the training schedules accordingly.
“If Sean wanted to say something then there is a different forum rather than being critical,” said Gatland.
“No one has ever in the history of the game taken on a tour of that magnitude or difficulty. Did we learn as coaches from that experience? Would we have done some things differently? Of course, we would. That’s part of coaching, part of the experience.” (© The Daily Telegraph, London)