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'If any player wants to call us, we’re happy to take that call': Gatland brushes off Brown's discontent

The Kiwi also stressed the need for the Lions to be aware of cultural differences as they tour his homeland.

Rory Keane reports from Syon House, London 

THERE WERE MANY surprise omissions from Warren Gatland’s 41-man Lions squad.

The likes of Garry Ringrose, George Ford and Hamish Watson were just three top performers who failed to make the final cut. But Mike Brown was particularly aggrieved.

Mike Brown Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

At the weekend, he told the Rugby Paper: “I didn’t take it well. I was gutted. I feel I’ve played really well from 2015 onwards so it was really disappointing to not get the call, but you can’t let one man’s decision define you.”

Brown, who was ever-present at fullback during England’s back-to-back Six Nations title-winning campaigns, can be as spiky in post-match press conferences as he is on the pitch – and the Harlequins stalwart was particularly aggrieved with Gatland’s lack of communication since the Kiwi finalised his group to take on the All Blacks next month.

It’s really disappointing for guys like myself, James Haskell and Dylan Hartley because we probably won’t get another opportunity. I’ve had no feedback about being on standby either, which is also disappointing, so I’m not going to keep up false hopes.”

Fast forward 24 hours and it was “Messy Monday” at the Lions’ base in west London. A day when the chosen players get kitted out and receive an articulated lorry full of personalised swag while getting through mandatory administration duties. Suit fittings, photocalls and some team bonding was the order of the day.

When Warren Gatland emerged in the morning to speak with the media, Brown’s outburst was top of the agenda.

Warren Gatland, Sam Warburton and John Spencer Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

‘I haven’t spoken to Mike Brown,” he replied.

“I only heard about that this morning, I was speaking to Graham Rowntree and he said he’s spoken to Mike about the Lions.

‘Look, I can understand the frustration and the disappointment, I’m more than happy for him to give me a call if he feels he’s been hard done by. There’s a number of players in the same situation and I think that’s why we said if any player wants to call us or talk to any of the coaches, we’re more than happy to take that call. When we select a squad and make a decision on players it’s not always about the rugby content.”

New Zealand is one of the most uncompromising environments for any visiting rugby team, on and off the pitch. Top class opposition, mind games and intense media scrutiny has seen travelling squads buckle under the pressure in the past. England’s calamitous 2011 World Cup campaign is just one example of an operation that failed to adapt to their Kiwi surroundings.

Gatland signalled his intention to set his stall out early to this squad:

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’I’ll speak about family and any issues. Some of the expectations on tour and what we expect, some behaviour stuff, being aware of dealing with the media and potential issues that may arise. We need to be prepared for that, understanding New Zealand culturally, because there is a difference.

Brian O'Driscoll at the official powhiri Brian O'Driscoll meets the official powhiri in 2005. Source: Michael Bradley/INPHO

“It wasn’t until I left there that I realised how tough a country it is to go and tour. Players can find that experience a bit daunting to start with if they haven’t been there before so it’s just trying to communicate the messages and the expectations on what’s going to happen with the squad.”

Gatland, a proud Kiwi and a former All Black, has consistently driven the message home that this Lions squad will engage with the New Zealand public and leave a positive imprint, regardless of the results on the pitch over their gruelling six-week odyssey.

Saying that, he believes that this squad has the talent and the depth to take Steve Hansen’s side to the wire over three high-octane Test encounters.

“Probably internally, the expectation for us is to do well without talking ourselves up or being too confident, the last thing we need to get into a ‘them against us’ in terms of trying to create something,” he explained.

“We’ve got to talk about belief, self-confidence and our own ability.

“This is the strongest squad that the Lions have put together for a number of tours, in terms of strength and depth.

“I’m really excited about the squad. We know how tough the challenge is but that’s part of the history of the Lions. It’s a daunting task to go and play one of the southern hemisphere teams away from home with limited preparation time but we’ve known that for a long time, we’ve understood that.

“I feel we have a squad that are capable of doing really well out there.”

Gatland is talking a good game at present. The talking will stop when his squad board their flight to Auckland on 29 May. Then, the real business begins.

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