Wednesday 17 July 2019

Rob Howley accepts Sean O'Brien's apology after finally talking to Ireland flanker

Sean O'Brien during a British and Irish Lions training session at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Sean O'Brien during a British and Irish Lions training session at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Lions assistant coach Rob Howley has accepted Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien's apology for criticising his ability as a coach on the Lions tour of New Zealand during the summer.

O'Brien said that Howley struggled in terms of conveying his message to the group and that it was essentially Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell that ran the side's "attacking shape”.

“If I was being critical of any coach it would be the fact that I think Rob struggled with the group in terms of his attributes of trying to get stuff across," O'Brien said last month.

"Whereas Johnny and Owen drove everything the second week, for instance, in our attack and had a better plan in place.

“So I don’t know if it was people were not buying into what (Howley) was about or whatever else. That’s the hard thing about a Lions tour as well: Getting everyone to listen to a coach that was probably set in his ways.”

O'Brien said at the One Zero conference on October 17 that he had talked to Lions coach Warren Gatland, and that he had called assistants Andy Farrell and Howley to discuss his comments, however, in an interview with Rob Cole in The Telegraph on Saturday, Howley claims that he finally spoke with O'Brien on October 20.

“I exchanged whatsapps with Sean and we finally spoke on the phone last Friday (20 October). We talked for a good 20 minutes, he apologised and now we move on,” said Howley

“I have the greatest respect for Sean O’Brien and I thought he was outstanding on the Lions tour. His comments are tomorrow’s fish and chip paper and it will all soon be forgotten.

“I was obviously disappointed and felt that the forum we had been a part of for seven weeks on tour would have been a better opportunity to raise those comments to the coaching team or with me.

“New Zealand was very different to the two previous tours and the midweek games challenged us as a group of coaches far differently. Having worked with Johnny and Owen in Australia, any sensible coach would have used their experience and included them in the decision making process.

“From my perspective, we tried to empower the players. I had the opportunity to sit down with Owen, Johnny and Dan Biggar in the lead-up to the tour when their clubs got knocked out in the semi-finals and we were able to put in place a lot of foundations.

“We only had two coaching days within the week on tour. When you look at the preparation time and what we achieved, I’m very proud as a coach to come away with what we did.”

Warren Gatland said that O'Brien's comments really hurt the Lions coaching staff and that he would not make himself available to be apart of the 2021 tour to South Africa.

"I wouldn't subject myself to that," Gatland said.

"What I've learned from my Lions' experiences is how difficult it is to put some continuity together in terms of people and staff and the lack of preparation time ... let someone else do it. Let someone else reinvent the wheel.

"I'm done. I hated the tour. I did. I just hated the press and the negativity in New Zealand.

"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. It was hard.

"You watch how hard the coaches and the backroom staff worked - they worked their absolute bollocks off on that tour - and then to have someone come out and make a comment like that ... it really, really did hurt."

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