As Harlequins gathered for training on Tuesday, it must have been agony for those boys in Lions contention. “The Lions announcement wasn’t the priority for us at the Harlequins training ground on Tuesday, as we had our team meeting and training around the same time,” said head coach Conor O’Shea. “That said, you knew the guys were desperate to find out.”
He is as shocked as most of the rest of us as to Robshaw’s non-inclusion. “From our club and an England perspective, you couldn’t imagine Chris Robshaw not being on that plane. He has captained England to a win against the All Blacks this season.
“He had two man of the match performances in the Six Nations so it is hard to believe. England were four from four going into the last game against Wales and then Cardiff happened. Was that enough to knock him off the plane? It’s the same with Danny (Care) and what he could bring to the tour to Australia.”
As we know, none of the players (officially) knew before any of us did, and so as they went through their drills and meetings, they were still unsure as to where they would be that June. The likes of Danny Care, Mike Brown and Joe Marler, all stalwarts of Lancaster’s England, were in with a chance – and then, of course, there is Robshaw, the man with surely the cruelest fate. There were always going to be some big casualties, but there weren’t many who left out of their squads the man who had led England to victory over New Zealand and to the brink of a Six Nations in the past six months.
“By the time we finished our meeting and got out to train the word was out there and for the likes of Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Joe Marler and Mike Brown it was disappointing,” noted O’Shea. “The lads felt for Chris and Danny in particular and all you can ever do is console them and get on with it. It is always about your next job and I would say to them all that you cannot control selection, so many variables come into it and eventually selection is subjective and opinion-based. That is why everyone debates it and no one will ever agree with it.”
O’Shea says Gatland has stayed true to the guys he has worked with in the past, meaning the likes of Dan Lydiate, who has been injured for the best part of the season, has made it ahead of the Harlequins and England captain. “As a coach you understand why people go with what and who you know and that is what Warren has done. He is a straightforward, straight-talking bloke and I am sure he will tell a few guys who have been selected over others that they owe him to deliver because of the quality of players left out. In instances, it is faith, not form, that has won out.
“Across the British Isles and Ireland you will have the elation and despair and that is sport. I am sure Rory Best, Simon Zebo, Tom Wood, Joe Launchbury, Donnacha Ryan, Mike Ross and so many more will be gutted but all they can do is focus on their end of season games and be ready if the call comes from Warren, as it always does on Lions tours.”
That will seem like small consolation right now, however.
Regarding the much-debated captaincy issue, O’Shea says Gatland has again gone with the option that he knows and has worked with successfully in the past. Let us not forget that he and Warburton led Wales to a Grand Slam and the brink of a World Cup final together. “The Captaincy has been hotly debated but Warren has again gone to the bloke he has gone to war with many times,” says the Quins coach.
“There will be plenty of help and support from the likes of Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll but Warren is the most successful club and international coach in the Northern Hemisphere. He has always made big decisions and more often than not he is proven right.”
So who does O’Shea back to be on that teamsheet for that opening test on 22nd June?
“The excitement will build from here on in, and I am sure that changes will happen as we get nearer the tour, but for now it looks like the first test team would be as follows:”
15. L Halfpenny
14. G North
13. B O’Driscoll
12. J Roberts
11. T Bowe
10. J Sexton
9. M Phillips
8. J Heaslip
7. S Warburton
6. T Croft
5. A-W Jones
4. P O’Connell
3. A Jones
2. T Youngs
1. C Healy
Do you agree with O’Shea’s team?
Conor O’Shea was speaking as a rugby ambassador for QBE, the business insurance specialist, who are supporting the development of rugby through the QBE Coaching Programme. For exclusive rugby news, video and blogs please visit www.QBErugby.com and follow QBE on Twitter @QBErugby.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43