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O'Connell the perfect fit for Lions if Gatland is going to add 'extra resource'

The Lions head coach said they ‘may bring someone else in a little bit later on.’

O'Connell joined Ireland ahead of this year's Six Nations.
O'Connell joined Ireland ahead of this year's Six Nations.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

YOU COULDN’T ACCUSE Warren Gatland of being dishonest yesterday as he confirmed that there had been a few people unavailable when it came to nailing down his Lions coaching ticket.

The Lions boss didn’t attempt to hide the fact that he had been keen for Andy Farrell to take up the defence coach role for a third consecutive tour, nor did he conceal that he had hopes of getting Steve Borthwick and/or Graham Rowntree involved with the forwards.

In the end, Gatland confirmed Gregor Townsend, Steve Tandy, Robin McBryde, and Neil Jenkins as his assistants, while highlighting that there is still room for adding “extra resource” to his coaching team before the Lions depart for South Africa at the end of June.

Scotland head coach Townsend has always had creativity and intelligence around the attacking side of the game and it will be thrilling to see how the Lions attempt to break down the Springboks, whose defence was world-leading back in 2019.

Townsend turned down the offer to team up with Gatland for the 2017 tour of New Zealand but couldn’t resist this time around.

“That was not an easy decision but at the time I felt it was the right decision to stay with Scotland. It was going to be my first coaching opportunity with the national team and we had a tough tour to Australia and Fiji,” said Townsend, who toured South Africa as a Lions player in 1997.

“It did cross my mind that if you turn down the Lions you might not get asked again so I was delighted that Warren hadn’t crossed me off his list.” 

Tandy has had a clear impact on Scotland as their defence coach over the last two years, turning what had become a weakness in their game into a strength, with Townsend praising him as “someone who connects well with the players.”

Kicking specialist Neil Jenkins oozes Lions knowledge and experience as he gets set for his sixth tour as a player or coach, while Robin McBryde knows Gatland very well from their time working together with Wales.

McBryde has, of course, been working with Leinster since the 2019 World Cup and feels his time in Ireland has made him a better coach.

“It’s interesting, going from one successful environment into another one,” said McBryde.

“Everybody sees the game differently, that’s been good for me – really healthy, having different challenges and doing things differently.

“Being involved with Stuart Lancaster, Felipe Contepomi, Leo Cullen; the legacy that past coaches have left behind them and the players have embraced; the nature of the players has been brilliant for me.”

While McBryde has been appointed Lions forwards coach, his longstanding expertise has been around the scrum. The Welshman would be more than capable of putting together a strong lineout but it is one area where Gatland may look for that “extra resource.”

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When it comes to the lineout, there is no hotter property than Ireland’s Paul O’Connell.

Ireland are currently still examining the possibility of a tour to the Pacific Islands this summer and it could be that the IRFU are unwilling to release him so soon into his time with the national team. 

Having previously worked with O’Connell on the 2009 and 2013 Lions tours, Gatland knows plenty about the former Munster man’s character, while his expertise around the lineout and breakdown is highly regarded within the game.

Of course, Ireland are O’Connell’s priority and any summer Tests will be an important part of the long-term development of Andy Farrell’s team, but Gatland indicated yesterday that his mind is still open in terms of adding to his coaching team.

“We may bring someone else in a little bit later on – somebody who comes in before the tour or maybe during the tour,” said Gatland. “I’m looking to see what the final schedules are for the international sides. They haven’t been finalised.

“Are teams going on tour, are they playing at home, who do they play against? I think it’s got to be finalised sometime before the end of the month. So we may look to add someone else to the coaching group, we’ll be flexible on that.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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