Warren Gatland defends game plan against ongoing 'Warrenball' tag

The Lions boss was irritated by suggestions that his team play negative rugby.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

THE PHRASE ‘WARRENBALL’ has come to be a derogatory term used by Warren Gatland’s detractors, a tag that signifies the perceived limits of the Lions head coach’s tactical approach.

Head Coach Warren Gatland during the press conference Gatland feels the 'Warrenball' tag is an easy way to be critical of his success. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Gatland, rather unsurprisingly, doesn’t have too much time for the idea that his philosophy on the game is a negative one.

Winning collisions and being direct are simply part of the game, according to Gatland, but not the entire picture.

Gatland is of the belief that the phrase ‘Warrenball,’ which was coined by former Ireland international and England attack coach Brian Smith, is a simple means to criticise him after his successes with Wasps, Waikato, the Lions and Wales.

Asked about the perceptions around his tactical approach today in Auckland, Gatland responded with obvious irritation and bit back with a query as to when people had started talking about ‘Warrenball’.

“I kind of look and go, ‘Was is it when we were successful at Wasps or when I was coaching Waikato in the Air New Zealand Cup?’ I don’t know, when did a certain style change?

“Look, a few years ago Brian Smith coined the phrase ‘Warrenball’ and I don’t know whether that was because he was jealous of how much success we had.

“We had a group of players who came through Wales at the time who ended up being pretty big physical players.

“The modern game of rugby is about getting across the gainline, trying to get front-foot ball and playing to space if that is possible.”

Warren Gatland Gatland speaks to Jared Payne at Lions training. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Gatland said he doesn’t worry too much about those perceptions, but his apparent frustration suggested otherwise.

He pointed to the Lions’ tour of Australia in 2013 for evidence of one of his teams disproving the ‘Warrenball’ tag, with the touring squad having convincingly beaten the Wallabies in the third Test four years ago.

“I think in a way it is an opportunity for people to want to be critical,” said Gatland. “We experienced that four years ago when people decided to be critical and a lot of people got caught with their pants down afterwards, didn’t they?”

While the Lions didn’t display a clinical edge against the Provincial Barbarians on Saturday in a 13-7 victory, Gatland again stated that he is backing his players to operate with freedom in attack on this summer’s tour.

He is hopeful of seeing more of that against the Blues at Eden Park this week, and against the All Blacks when the Test series rolls around.

“We know we didn’t play so well on Saturday and it gives us an opportunity to go out against the Blues and be positive. The message to the players is that we want to play positive rugby, we want to be able to move the ball and shift it and create chances.”

Warren Gatland in the team huddle during training Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“To match the All Blacks, you have got to display a bit of x-factor and if that x-factor means an offload or doing something that is a little bit outside the box, the players are being encouraged to do that.

“Because that is what we are going to need to beat them, and express themselves, back their skills and back their ability and we don’t want to be prescribed and we don’t want to play by numbers.

“These players are being encouraged to develop their level of skills and to go out there and to do that. Hopefully, we can show that on Wednesday and the players can do that and perform to what they are being encouraged by the coaches to do.”

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