Dave Beach spoke to former Lions and England captain Martin Corry about Lions leadership, his rivalry with Paul O’Connell and exactly how to beat the All Blacks.
He also offered his views on the back-row, the work he’s doing with NatWest Rugby Force as well as rugby as a family and community affair.
English Rugby Legend Martin Corry is a member of The Rugby Force – a grassroots rugby initiative from NatWest and England Rugby which will offer advice and support to community clubs across England as part of NatWest RugbyForce 2017.
What are your thoughts on the omission of Hartley? You would have thought he was a sure thing as England captain.
He’s certainly not the biggest omission. You look at some of the other guys, Joe Launchbury is probably my biggest omission. Look at the role Hartley plays for England. It almost comes across that he’s in the side because he’s a very good leader, he gets them in a good position for 50-55mins and comes off for Jamie George. That’s what’s interesting. So yes, he’s been made England captain, but that’s not to do with how good he is as a player but more to do with how strong he is as a leader. If you look at Gatland’s side, he’s gone for lots of powerful individuals and explosive runners. Jamie George fits that mould more than Dylan does. So for that reason, and that he’s not going to be captain or first choice, then his role as a leader is negligible.
What about Sam Warburton as captain? Good call?
Yeah, I really like Sam. He’s worked really closely with Gatland and I think that’s key – Gatland knows exactly what he’s getting. There’s some real quality about, so there’s a chance he’ll just become a tour captain and not play the tests or be substituted, to let some other quality players come off the bench.
You mentioned the quality in the back-row. Who’ll start for you? Will we see a bench rotation system during the tour?
No, not for the test matches. I look at this touring party and, of all the Lions’ tours, this is probably the most debatable first team selection. I don’t think there’ll be a rotation system. In order to be a successful Lions’ side you need to have a settled team and know where you stand.
There’s some phenomenal players and some phenomenal impact players, just look at the number 8s. You’d say Vunipola to start, then you’ve got Faletau and Stander – he’ll probably start at 6 – so you’ve got a lot of dynamic players who can play in this position. I think it’s tough because, rather than having a squad all much a muchness, Gatland would much rather have 10 to 15 players who are genuinely the best in the world and who set themselves apart from everyone else.
You left Moriarty out of that Number 8s list, a surprising inclusion. He’s a young and powerful player, and we know Warren likes powerful players. Do you think he and the other young players will have a role in the set-up?
Absolutely, if Faletau gets on the bench, who knows. The provincial sides will be really hard, there are some really tough games there. I’m sure Gatland’s got his first team pencilled in, but there’s going to be, as there always is, room for the players that have just come in and really take that opportunity to be included in the test side. Moriarty has the potential to be one of those players.
Maybe it’s the New Zealand water or mountain air, but there’s got to be something that sets them apart from the rest of the world when it comes to rugby development. Where do the All Blacks get their rugby prowess from?
Grassroot development has got to be a major part. Every country is looking at how to get a seamless link for young kids…especially in the UK, and particularly in England, for all the thousands of kids playing at the 2000 plus [junior] clubs, and get them a seamless pathway all the way to community league games. They don’t even have to make it to the league games, but the pathway has to be there. It’s not quite right yet [in the UK], but that’s the problem at the top end, it’s nothing to do with all the fantastic work that the junior clubs are doing.
That’s the reason why I love NatWest Rugby Force. I’m a product of a junior rugby club because my school wasn’t overly strong on rugby. I don’t want to take anything away from the schools, but a lot of my early rugby development was done at a junior rugby club so I’m really proud to be able to support these projects.
In fact, my son’s now 11 and he’s playing at one of these clubs that have hundreds of kids coming up on a Sunday. These clubs are great for development, not just for rugby, they’re great communities; they become the centre of the community. And with NatWest coming behind [the clubs], they’re not only recognising that, but they want to support it further as well. I’m sure that’s why my Dad started taking me to rugby because, yes, rugby is a great sport in itself, but the rugby club is such a vibrant community so, at NatWest it’s a big celebration of that.
There have been many attempts to unite the home nations for a tour, including the infamous case of The Power of Four anthem. From your experience as a Lions’ player and captain, what are the challenges facing a touring squad from different rugby cultures?
I was on that tour… let’s not talk about that song, please.
You think there is such a wide range of cultures, personalities and styles of play between the Six Nations and home nations, in my experience, there’s actually not. What you’ve actually got are guys who are playing at the top of their level. They’re all supreme athletes and they’re incredibly focused. In terms of cultures, we can argue about the small points but culturally there’s no difference between Wales and England and Scotland and Ireland. What I think, they’re elite athletes joining together in a team to go out and win a series.
The real skill is the coaching team to get the players, who have been used to playing different styles, to all play the way the coaches feel is the best way to win the test.
I look back at my experiences with Paul O’Connell. We used to have tremendous battles on the field for club and country and you build up this rivalry in these really big games, so there’s an element of, yes, I know how tough he is to play against and I’m proud to be in the same shirt as him. I think that goes a long way to breaking down the barriers.
This is the first Lions’ tour to New Zealand since 2005, which was known for its physicality. This upcoming tour promises not just to be physical but psychologically challenging as well. How do you, as a player and person, prepare yourself physically and mentally?
You’re absolutely right, it’s always going to be physical. You look at the nature of the squad so we know it’s going to be physical because we want it to be physical. We’re going out and picking very competitive and very physical players. You look at the games that New Zealand have played where they’ve either been pulled close or lost and you look at the Ireland game in Chicago and even the French game (Nov, 2016). It is about going out and taking the game to New Zealand physically. This is a game of rugby, this is where the Lions must set themselves apart from anything else in world rugby.
I remember the first Lions series I went to as a fan in 2009 in South Africa, it was just so compelling purely on the physicality and confrontational nature of the games, and I see this one being exactly the same. I’m not taking anything away from the players who are incredibly skilful but it starts with the physical domination upfront. Just talking about it now, you get excited both as a player and as a person, there’s something that’s unique about the way they’re going to go out and play. The great thing is as well, I’m sure the fans will get taken along from the first game. I’ve said it before about this tour, I think it’s going to be something special.
Last question… dreaded predictions. It’s a strong squad, how do we feel about winning the series?
Well, that Irish win in Chicago and the way in which they did it, they couldn’t back it up after, but they ran them close again back in Dublin. The French ran them close and had a lot of opportunities. I think teams realise now, and I’m not saying it’s easy, but they know the way in which they have to play against New Zealand and I think Gatland’s squad is well suited and perhaps picked for the way they’re going to play. New Zealand are, and rightly so, the favourites but we’ve got a chance and that’s the best thing about this, just look at the squad, it’s a phenomenal squad.
Do I expect them to win the series? I don’t expect it but there’s more than hope there, they’ve got a genuine chance.
By Dave Beach
Martin Corry is a member of The NatWest Rugby Force, bringing his business experience to help grassroots clubs become more sustainable. To register for a chance to have Martin join your rugby club, visit www.englandrugby.com/natwestrugbyforce.