Gatland: O'Neill 'influenced' ref

Wed, 05 Sep 2012 12:28
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B&I Lions coach Warren Gatland has re-opened the World Cup refereeing can of worms by suggesting ARU boss John O'Neill had a role to play.

Newly appointed British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has re-opened the World Cup refereeing can of worms by suggesting Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive John O'Neill had a significant role to play.

Gatland said he is ready for similar "mind games" from the ARU boss, O'Neill, when he leads the side against the Wallabies next year.

"I just think you have got to handle that," Gatland told reporters after he was formally confirmed as coach of the combined side from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales for the 2013 tour of Australia.

"They are masters at that," said Wales coach Gatland, who guided his adopted country to the semifinals of last year's World Cup in his native New Zealand.

"Possibly the best one was John O'Neill ... a master of influencing certain things," Gatland explained.

"I don't see any better example than the [World Cup] quarterfinal of South Africa versus Australia and how it was influenced it was a master stroke.

"With Ireland beating Australia in that pool game, certain complaints were made about the referee subtly and I think that had an impact on the quarterfinal," he said of New Zealander Bryce Lawrence's performance that resulted in claims of match-fixing from within South Africa.

"I am not decrying it, but it was absolutely outstanding for what it did for his [O'Neill's] nation," he said of a match the Wallabies won before losing to eventual champions New Zealand in the semifinals.

Gatland, no stranger to a bit of verbal jousting himself, added: "I have got a huge amount of respect for what John O'Neill has done in terms of leading Australia in sport and he is a master at what he does.

"We have got to be aware of what sort of things potentially are going to be happening behind the scenes to maybe put us off. It is important I just keep my head down and don't say too much."

Gatland is only the second overseas coach to lead the Lions, following in the footsteps of fellow Kiwi Graham Henry, who was in charge for the 2001 series loss to the Wallabies - the Lions last visit to Australia.

"I'm well aware of the potential criticism; that it should have been someone who is British or Irish, and I understand that," said Gatland, who has coached Ireland and English club Wasps, as well as Wales.

"But I see myself as being a bit different to that.

"I've been coaching in the northern hemisphere for 23 years - on and off since 1989.

"I've lived and coached in Ireland, I've lived and coached in London, in England, and now I'm living and working in Wales.

"That has given me a great insight, culturally and an understanding."

The Lions will be under public scrutiny as never before with this their first tour of the Twitter age and Gatland is determined the tour won't be derailed by the kind of alcohol-fuelled incidents that overshadowed England's campaign at last year's World Cup.

"We are all aware what happened in the World Cup and the issues that arose from that," said Gatland, an assistant coach on the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa,

"It is important we address that and make sure we try not to get ourselves into any trouble off the field."

Lions manager Andy Irvine added: "In the good old amateur days, some of the antics players got up to were probably worse than what happens now. But it is a different ball game now.

"It is something Warren is to be congratulated on. Wales have had one or two interesting moments in years gone by but they have had an exemplary record in the last two years."

Gatland, who saw the 1971 Lions beat the All Blacks, knows what is at stake as he bids to lead the Lions to their first Test series win in 16 years.

"I remember as a boy when the Lions came to New Zealand. Teams weren't supposed to beat the All Blacks, so that had a big impact on me psychologically, mentally," he said.

"Then to think the Lions did it again in South Africa in 1974. It's about to getting back to that - making the Lions successful again."

AFP

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