From War­ren­ball to Wor­ry­ball

Marlborough Express - - SPORT -

OPIN­ION: For­get the red nose, if the Lions get ham­mered in the sec­ond test War­ren Gat­land will be up on the wob­bly bi­cy­cle with shoes as long as an al­li­ga­tor and a green wig big­ger than the hedge in Waikanae. Gat­land’s se­lec­tion for the sec­ond test is a colos­sal gam­ble that con­tra­dicts al­most his en­tire coach­ing ca­reer.

We are used to the Lions coach mak­ing big calls. When he left Brian O’Driscoll out of the third test three years ago, Gat­land might as well have told the whole of Ire­land that Oliver Cromwell was a good bloke. He sim­i­larly of­fended most of Scot­land by ex­clud­ing al­most their en­tire team from his Lions squad this time around. Chat live with Mark Rea­son about the Lions tour from mid­day on Tuesdays and Fri­days.

But the se­lec­tion of both Johnny Sex­ton and Owen Far­rell at first and sec­ond five is a stun­ner. Gat­land never plays a sec­ond play­maker at sec­ond five. He plays War­ren­ball. He plays a pow­er­ful basher like Ben Te’o or Jamie Roberts to get him over the gain-line. Gat­land’s whole pre­vi­ous coach­ing mantra has de­pended on front-foot ball. You won­der if Gat­land’s sud­den change of heart is like a per­sonal ad in the lonely hearts col­umn sent out to New Zealand Rugby. Coach look­ing for home com­forts and a soul­mate. Love me, I’m not one-di­men­sional, I want to come home

Ear­lier in the tour we won­dered whether Far­rell was be­ing con­sid­ered as a sec­ond five, the po­si­tion he plays un­der Ed­die Jones for Eng­land. The ques­tion was met with hu­mour. Far­rell was on tour as a 10. Any­thing else just didn’t add up.

And what­ever hap­pens to­mor­row this se­lec­tion doesn’t add up. It’s not that it’s wrong. It’s that the tim­ing is ab­so­lutely bizarre.

If this was the way that Gat­land wanted to go, then surely he would have picked Sex­ton and Far­rell to­gether in the open­ing game against the Pro­vin­cial Bar­bar­ians. He would have given the com­bi­na­tion time to get to know each other. But that wasn’t part of Gat­land’s grand plan.

Far­rell and Sex­ton have played to­gether be­fore on this tour. They played 52 min­utes against the Crusaders as a re­ac­tion to in­jury. And they played the fi­nal 24 min­utes of the first test. But this se­lec­tion looks as if Gat­land wanted Sex­ton back in the team but was re­luc­tant to drop Far­rell be­cause of the force of char­ac­ter he brings.

It looks like a com­pro­mise. It can’t be be­cause Gat­land is a bet­ter se­lec­tor than that. So you can only as­sume that the Lions have shifted their gameplan. Gat­land was very dis­ap­pointed by the tac­ti­cal fail­ure of the mid­week team to kick enough in the sec­ond half against the Hur­ri­canes. He felt it cost them the game.

So now Gat­land has a 9, 10, 12 and 13 who are all ex­pert kick­ers. The Lions are go­ing to run the for­wards hard off both 9 and 10, but they are also go­ing to at­tack an area they see as a po­ten­tial weak­ness in the All Blacks back three. Just as Ire­land did in Chicago, kick and chase looks like be­ing a big part of the game.

It doesn’t mean that the Lions won’t still counter-at­tack if the space is there to run into. But it does look as though Ben Te’o may have been sac­ri­ficed for his fail­ure to pass when the Lions had an over­lap early in the sec­ond half of the first test. Gat­land can be ruth­less.

The other big call is to bring back Sam War­bur­ton as cap­tain. It was a huge mis­take to ap­point Peter O’Ma­hony as cap­tain for the first test. I said then that he did not have enough ex­pe­ri­ence of han­dling in­ter­na­tional ref­er­ees and so it proved.

Jaco Peyper was so fed up with the Lions by the sec­ond half that he had a go at them for hav­ing six play­ers all talk­ing to him at once. It put the ref’s back up. The line calls had al­ready all started flow­ing the All Blacks’ way.

It was all very, very pre­dictable and it was a colos­sal blun­der. Sam War­bur­ton now comes in, af­ter be­com­ing the first tour cap­tain since 1930 to miss the open­ing test. He is there partly to slow down the All Blacks pos­ses­sion but he is also there to talk to Jerome Garces, the man in charge of the sec­ond test.

If this se­lec­tion looks slightly des­per­ate, then that’s be­cause it is. The Lions have to win. Gat­land clearly thinks they have to change. He clearly thinks he has to change. The Lions are go­ing to be very, very phys­i­cal to­mor­row. There will be col­li­sions, car­nage and cards.

It’s big top and cir­cus. It’s Gat­land’s last stand. If he fails he will be go­ing home on a uni­cy­cle.

PHO­TOS: GETTY IM­AGES

Johnny Sex­ton, left, will start for the Lions at first five-eighth in the sec­ond test as War­ren Gat­land fields two play­mak­ers with Owen Far­rell, right, moved out to No 12.

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