The British and Irish Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, caused a stir on Tuesday when he commented that selecting a large number of English players for the tour of Australia this summer would bring certain 'pressures' that do not come with other nations.
He went on to say that England 'were not the most popular' nation abroad, and that there was a 'circus' that surrounded the England squad at the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.
There are several things that are wrong with Gatland's comments. Firstly, what is the point of them? Who comes off well out of all this? It seems that his penchant for stirring things up in the media is rearing its head again, and on a trip to Australia (where the sporting media is notoriously vicious) it could end badly.
Secondly, the fact that he is commenting at all about nationality is worrying. The Lions are a team made up of four nations, but that is not how it should be viewed. The pool of available players must be on a level playing field, and should be viewed in that context, not that of their nationality. Gatland, as head coach of Wales, will have his allegiances, but it is paramount, particularly in light of Wales' recent poor form, that he puts them to one side. Every player must be an individual, and assessed on the basis of his own strengths and weaknesses.
Thirdly, England are the form team of the Home Nations at the moment, and to not select their players based on some misconceived notion that they are disruptive would be ludicrous. They have the most confidence of any of the teams and if nothing else that would be a huge boost to the atmosphere in the Lions camp.
Lastly, the notion that the England players would somehow create some sort of circus on or off the pitch is entirely outdated. Martin Johnson's England regime was plagued by off-field incidents, as he sought to create a 'band of brothers' type group. Stuart Lancaster, though, has instilled a hugely impressive discipline in the squad, which makes Gatland's comments seem rather bizarre and out of context.
It's been done before, but the example on Danny Care is a good one to draw on. Previously renowned for his lewd and frankly appalling off-field behaviour, Lancaster unceremoniously dropped him and he duly changed his ways. He is twice the player now, and serves as a perfect example of how Lancaster has changed the mentality of the group. They are the same players, but they are different men.
When all is said and done, Gatland's comments have only served to make him look stupid and remind everyone that he likes to wind people up. The Australian media may well like to attack touring players, but when the Lions are in town it won't matter what nationality they are. If it doesn't matter to them, it shouldn't matter to Gatland either.
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- Warren Gatland