Gatland going 'home' in 2017?
Gatland going 'home' in 2017?SHARE
Despite being the victim of 'vitriolic criticism', Warren Gatland would jump at the chance to take the British and Irish Lions to New Zealand in 2017.
The Kiwi coach came under fire after making the big call to drop midfield legend Brian O'Driscoll and include 10 Welshmen in the starting XV for the decisive Test in Sydney, and his team rose to the occasion – recording a comprehensive 41-16 victory over the Wallabies.
After making the selection call that could have divided the British and Irish Lions along national lines, Gatland's coaching career was in the balance. The doomsdayers were even hinting at the future of the combined 'home nations' tour concept hinging on the outcome of the Sydney encounter.
However, he was ultimately vindicated as he delivered the combined team from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England its first series triumph since 1997.
But even after the victory in Sydney, he was still reeling from the torrent of criticism he'd copped.
"I was absolutely shocked at the vitriolic terms of the criticism," Gatland said. "I haven't enjoyed the last 72 hours, it's been tough personally.
"Maybe in a week or two I might get some pleasure out of tonight. But at the moment there hasn't been a lot of pleasure out of feeling vindicated at the amount of criticism directed at me personally."
Having said that, he later told a British tabloid that he'd "jump at the opportunity" to take charge of the Lions on their next tour in 2017 – to New Zealand.
"It would be a massive honour and extra special to take them to my home country," Gatland was quoted as saying by the Mail on Sunday.
New Zealand's 2011 World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry was in charge of the Lions when they lost the 2001 series in Australia 2-1, after opening that series with an emphatic win.
England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward was in charge for the 3-0 drubbing in New Zealand in 2005. Gatland was an assistant coach in 2009 when the Lions lost the series 2-1 in South Africa.
"I've been lucky enough to be involved in the last two tours – 2009 was about restoring some real pride into that Lions jersey and I felt we did that in South Africa," Gatland told a news conference late Saturday night.
"This wasn't about that. This was delivering. This was winning the series. And we've achieved that. The pleasing thing for everyone, we saw how special Lions tours can be."
He's already plotting the next tour – or at least offering his advice to anyone who succeeds him.
"Going forward, you need to make sure that the amount of interest it creates, the amount of hype, the amount of money it generates, you've got to do the Lions tour properly," he said. "You've got to have the right preparation time. When the Lions negotiate a series it's got to be done properly."
Gatland said he was frustrated at the start of the tour with the limited preparation time for his squad, and that was compounded by easy wins in Hong Kong against the Barbarians and the Western Force in Perth in the first two matches.
The Lions tour attracted an accumulated crowd of 389,400 at nine matches in Australia, including records for each of the Test venues in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney – finishing off with the 83,702 people cramming into the Olympic stadium which was reconfigured after the 2000 Games.
An estimated 40,000 traveling British and Irish Lions fans swelled the population of expats already living in Australia, and made the downtown areas of test cities a sea of red jerseys on match day.
O'Driscoll was delighted in the end, capping off his fourth Lions tour with his first series victory. He played in the first two Tests – winning the first 23-21 in Brisbane and losing the second 16-15 in Melbourne -but Gatland benched him for the third, the first time O'Driscoll had been dropped in his 133-Test career.
But after the match, the 34-year-old Irishman was delighted to hold the Tom Richards Cup high above his head and do a circuit of the pitch for the Lions fans.
"This is fantastic for rugby going forward," Gatland said. "It's great for the Lions, and it creates an interest and excitement for the future for the Lions tours."