Deans vs Gatland – whose selection strategy will be successful?

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Robbie Deans and Warren Gatland – these two curmudgeonly Kiwis have plenty in common. They are both in charge of nations foreign to that of their birth, and in Gatland’s case a traditional touring side in the Lions. They are both fairly prickly characters, and have both been under the cosh recently for their selection decisions. They both clearly have their selection favourites (Mike Phillips, Kurtley Beale), and those they don’t trust or believe in (Justin Tipuric, Quade Cooper).

This week, however, they have taken entirely different stances when it comes to their most experienced players. The decision to drop O’Driscoll has already been done to death in column inches so there’s no need to go back over it here; suffice to say that there has been many a raised eyebrow (and in some cases significantly more) over Gatland’s decision to drop easily his most experienced player. Had Paul O’Connell or Sam Warburton, the other two members of the Lions’ leadership trinity, been playing, this decision would have been more understandable. Without them, however, the Lions look to be lacking experience and leadership – a void that O’Driscoll would surely have filled.

Deans, on the other hand, has brought back Wallaby legend George Smith, a man who has not played test match rugby for four years. He has recognised that in the nerve-shredding cauldron that is a series-defining test match, there is no substitute for experience. Smith was one of the architects of the Lions downfall here in 2001, when the Wallabies came back from 1-0 down to claim the series 2-1, winning the final test 29-23 in Sydney.

Will history repeat itself this weekend? Deans obviously thinks that with Smith in the team the chance of that happening is greater. The Brumbies flanker becomes only the fourth Wallaby to play the Lions in two seperate series, joining Tony ‘Slaggy’ Miller, John Thornett and Peter Johnson, who were all involved in the 1959 and 1967 tours. Smith’s seems even more of an achievement, given that 12 rather than eight years have gone by since his last involvement against the Lions.

So 110 Wallaby caps plays 125 Ireland and eight Lions caps. Which decision will be the right one? Will the experience of Smith see the Wallabies over the line, or will he look tired and off the pace? Will the Lions lack leadership and a talisman to turn to if they are trailing, or would BOD just have slowed them down? Only time will now tell, but whichever way it goes it could be the defining moment in these two coaches’ careers.

Deans is already fairly unloved (to put it mildly) by much of the Australian public, and if this decision backfires and he becomes the first coach to lose to the Lions for 16 years, it may well prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Win, however, and he may buy himself a stay of execution. And with the 2015 World Cup already looming on the horizon, it would be madness to sack your coach much later than the end of this season. There is so much more on the line here for Deans than just a Lions series.

And what of Gatland? His selection has come in for fierce criticism from all corners, and not just for dropping O’Driscoll. The Welsh will always stand by him – and quite rightly – for what he has achieved with them, but how he is remembered in Lions history will be decided on Saturday. Sir Clive Woodward will forever be remembered as the World Cup winning coach that allowed English bias to infiltrate his Lions selections on a disastrous tour to New Zealand in 2005. Should Gatland and the Lions lose this weekend, having plumped for many of the Welsh players that he trusts, similar criticism, whether rightly or wrongly, will surely be aimed at him. It is why Woodward is largely unloved outside of England, but is still held in high regard within its borders. Ian McGeechan, on the other hand, is a legend throughout the British Isles and Ireland. Perhaps it is just because as a Scot he could never be accused of bias…

So with so much on the line for both coaches it is fascinating that one has put his faith in a legend while the other has dropped a legend. Whose choice will turn out to be correct?

For both sets of fans now, what’s done is done. Selections have been made and for all the debate over so-and-so being picked ahead of so-and-so, all we can do is get behind the men in red on Saturday and hope they can end the long 16-year wait for a series win. In this battle of the Kiwis, let’s hope it’s Gatland that comes out on top.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

12 thoughts on “Deans vs Gatland – whose selection strategy will be successful?

  1. Gatland Vs Deans. Is it better to have a flanker at 9 or a winger at 10? The ultimate pub selection question to be settled on Sat.

    This series is great, the results of both tests being decided after the final hooter. The series mirroring the 2001 sequence of events. This weeks selection decisions focussing on 2 players who faced each other 12 years ago. You couldn’t script it.

    I don’t think there are parallels between the Woodward and Gatland situation though. Woodward is a bit of a mad scientist, performing lots of crazy experiments to see what works and what doesn’t, learning and improving along the way. This is fine in a national setup over a period of many years, but made him completely unsuitable for the one off job of the Lions. Even if we lose on Sat I will still (as an Englishman) hold the view that Gatland was a good choice to lead the Lions (even if I prefer a scrum half at 9).

    1. Agreed. Deans won’t be criticised in Australia for bringing in Smith. His form has been outstanding.

      If we lose, it will be the number 10 jersey that gets the focus.

  2. Geech a Scot….?! Born in Yorkshire, educated in Yorkshire, worked in Yorkshire. You may take the man out of Yorkshire but…..

  3. “He has recognised that in the nerve-shredding cauldron that is a series-defining test match, there is no substitute for experience..” Yes there is, it’s called skill, power and fitness. Two well matched guys then yeah, experience is a nice edge; two guys where one is better than the other? Experience out the window. So now it comes down to who you think is best and that’s a different and better debate than “keep this guy in cos he’s been in a losing Lions series before” logic. As has been discussed to death a) BODs experience didn’t drag Ireland over the line in all of those Irish 6Ns 2nd places b) he was quite flakey/shirty with the ref in that 1st test and needed to be told to calm down by Sam, where was the “experienced and cool head” then?

    For all of the grief Gats is getting we should try and remember it is 1-1. Yes, if Aussies could have kicked better than 1st test to them – or would it? If Pollock had refereed better? If we’d gone short in last lineout in 2nd test and mauled it? If 1/2p had nailed the easier kick? (the one earlier in the match). If Vuni was penalised one less time in the scrum? etc. Great series imo, on a knife edge. Anyone who thinks there was a Lions team selection that would have made it an easy 2-0 for the Lions is living in cloud cuckoo land.

    1. Sorry Brighty – I don’t have to say it but I want to say it:

      “keep this guy in cos he’s been in a losing Lions series before” – Hahahahahahaha

      You are right. We shouldn’t “keep this guy in cos he’s been in a losing Lions series before” – instead we should “play this guy cos he’s been in a losing Wales team versus Australia for the last 8 games and a losing Wales team versus Tri Nations teams for the last 16 games”

      What a load of Bollocks

      Bottom line lets see how things pan out on Saturday and Gatland will be praise or damned accordingly

      1. Of course, I forgot criteria c for selection. This make it all so much easier than considering player attributes, don’t know why someone hasn’t done it before.

        C) played in a losing team against Aus last year? You are out. Played in a losing team to Aus but also in a winning one? Then you are in.

        1. This does of course rule out 1/2p, North, Adam Jones, AWJ, Fale … But hey, what’s important is that psychological edge over the Aussies.

          1. Ha – touched a nerve?

            I am not particularly impressed by your dismissive tone towards BOD

          2. I think you mistake my sniggering at your inane comments as disrespect for BOD. My apologies. For those who can read they can see that my centre pairing would have been BOD and JR. Based on skill, not on some need for a send off or some ephemeral notions of leadership and cool headedness.

      2. I know we are supposed to be massively impressed by the Welsh team and their coach.
        I am not.
        Good record against 6N teams.
        But Terrible record against 3N teams, Terrible record in the Heineken cup and very average in the Pro12.
        The list of players that you have rolled out are good but, in my opinion, not that good

        1. It’s an infuriating conundrum isn’t it? They’re not very good, not good enough to beat SH sides, not good enough clubs, but yet in the last ten matches against the sides populated by these better players they’ve beaten all of them. Hmmm. Tricky one. Why does the team with the poorer players keep winning those trophies? Someone needs to sort this out or it’s not going to be any good future Lions tours – we need the best players and coaches winning the matches, not the inferior ones.

    2. I agree with brighty on this but I will say one thing:

      The best way to ruin a star is pump him up with his own ego and make him believe his own hype (English media), fail him at a management/health level (IRFU), spear tackle him into submission. His talents were always going to be a bit wasted in our backwater part of the world.

      But still, fact remains, he didn’t quite live up to expectations and he’s overrated.
      Let’s leave it at that. He’s not the greatest center of all time. I’m Irish and I’m tired of hearing Irish people (victims of the hype)idolize him out of some insecurity complex. Clean out the old. Bring in the new. At a managerial/offialdom level and player level, “throw out the dead”

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