Oval Talk

Not too early for talk of Lions

Oval Talk

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Lions coach Warren Gatland

Mention of the British and Irish Lions may seem premature, nine months and a full season before their trip to Australia. But it is rare for talk of a Lions tour to bring anything but a flicker of excitement to any rugby fan's face.

Warren Gatland's confirmation as coach last week set the ball rolling in earnest and the Kiwi has wasted little time in getting to work on making an early assessment of the options available to him.

A tour is about striking the balance between youth, experience, raw talent and seasoned heads who know exactly how to lead their younger team-mates in scenarios they may not have found themselves in before.

So Gatland's revelation that "everyone is in contention" for a place - and by everyone he means players producing top form in club colours and not just on the international stage - shows Gatland's previous experience from the 2009 tour coupled with his top-level coaching experience mean he has exactly the right attitude to succeed.

Some coaches are too reserved and unwilling to risk their reputation, others too adventurous in an attempt to break the mould, but with Gatland the general sense is that he will combine all aspects perfectly.

"We are starting with a clean slate: no one is pencilled in," said Gatland. "If you are playing well enough, whether it is [Jonny] Wilkinson or [Mike] Tindall, you'll have a chance. In the past players have been selected out of club sides and done well.

"What will be reasonably important is that if they are not playing international rugby, they will have to come from a side that has done well at another level, such as the Heineken Cup. You need that comparison with Test rugby."

The direct mention of players of the international experience of Wilkinson and Tindall gives some insight into Gatland's open-mindedness, and it is almost certain he will use the same mentality to select players at the very opposite end of the career scale if they are playing well enough.

The skill lies not just in the selection of the right balance of players but also in the application of their particular strengths in harmony with one another, something Gatland has proven he can do time and again, and with his early statements he has indicated he is already well on course with the preparations for summer 2013.

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