Is Gatland’s use of a Welsh ‘spine’ such a bad thing for his squad?
O who do you think will win? And what of the Warren Gatland decision to leave out Brian O’Driscoll – wasn’t that despicable?
Some people in Durban, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth might differ, but there’s been only one really big debate hovering around rugby this week.
I won’t use that old cliché that “all roads lead to Sydney”, for they clearly don’t.
If I got into my car and drove down the West Coast road towards Langebaan, I most emphatically wouldn’t end up in Sydney.
And the N2 definitely takes me to Knysna and the Oyster Festival, which is where I would have been today had Sanzar acquiesced to my request for this to be a universal bye weekend in Super Rugby.
There again, if they’d done that, I’m not sure I would want to do anything that might risk me not being able to sit in front of the TV at noon to watch what is shaping up as the match of the decade.
The Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions with it all square and both games so far being decided by the narrowest of margins and with late missed penalty kicks being a factor – what more could a neutral fan ask for?
But back to those questions – when it comes to who is going to win, I haven’t the foggiest.
It was the Australian rugby columnist Spiro Zavos who once answered the question on who was going to win by saying “I don’t know, that’s why we’re having a game.”
I’m with him on that one, certainly in this instance.
On the O’Driscoll omission let me admit that when I first heard it I was astounded.
But then as time has passed since Wednesday’s team announcement, the reaction of Irish fans to his axing from the match 22 has started to remind me of the title of the Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing.
Much is being made of O’Driscoll’s past achievements and also his miserly defensive record so far in the series.
And if this was 2009, the outcry would certainly be justified. It was when O’Driscoll was concussed – Bryan Habana ran right through him for one of the crucial secondhalf tries – that the Lions effectively lost their way in the decisive second Test against the Springboks in Pretoria.
But this is not 2009 and much time has passed since we last saw O’Driscoll really ask big questions of an opposing defensive system.
Danie Gerber, the finest centre I ever saw, was the same when he was 34.
What the Lions lacked last week was penetration at the back.
There’s no question about that, and we wouldn’t be going into a decider today had they had it.
Jamie Roberts can provide it, and the 2013 version of O’Driscoll isn’t likely to be able to make the same impact
Soff the bench as Manu Tuilagi could.
Look at it like that and it suddenly looks a no-brainer. Gatland has a Test series to win, and there is no space for sentiment in that quest.
Seeing 10 Welshman in a 15man starting side does admittedly sit uncomfortably, particularly when there are still fresh memories of Wales going to Australia last year and not being able to win a Test.
But then loading the Lions teams with players from one nation does seem to be the way it is these days, and maybe it’s just an acknowledgement that times have changed and the game has become a lot more complicated than it used to be.
Old timers must wonder what Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is on about when he keeps referring to the length of time a new player has been “in the system”.
When the Springboks made their return to international rugby in 1992 against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, coach John Williams had only three days to prepare his team.
But that was the way of it back then. It isn’t any more.
These days if coaches don’t have months rather than weeks to work on the moves and “the systems”, they feel disadvantaged. And for good reason.
The lineouts are just one area that have become way too technical for the rank and file earthling to understand.
Speak to a good defence coach about how his system works and I guarantee there’s a chance you will end up with the same look on your face and thoughts going through your brain as you would if you were discussing the intricacies of an A340’s hydraulics system with a manufacturer from Airbus.
The modern Lions aren’t helped by the tour matches building up to the Test matches being played by under-strength teams.
A few weeks is just not enough time to bring four different nations together into one team and expect them to beat a top side that has a settled core that has played together for a few seasons.
At least it isn’t unless you’re prepared to make one nation the spine of your team, which is what Gatland has done.
He’s a pragmatic man as much as he is a brave one and good luck to him for if the Lions lose he’s never again going to be able to drink a pint of Guinness without being flooded with miserable thoughts.