Beating the Wallabies? Easier than dropping Edwards, says Gatland

Lions coach tells of agonising decision to opt for Farrell rather than his old friend

Warren Gatland likes to tell it straight – straighter, word for word and opinion for opinion, than any other coach in international rugby – so there was no reason to disbelieve him today when he suggested that the challenge of guiding the British and Irish Lions to victory over Australia next summer would prove a whole lot easier than the task of denying Shaun Edwards, his long-time friend and go-to man, a place on the coaching staff. "That decision," he confessed, "was pretty agonising for me."

Gatland, appointed head coach of the Lions in September, has spent the intervening weeks identifying the optimum back-room team for the 10-match trip, during which his side will play three Tests and meet each of the Wallaby nation's five Super 15 franchises – a relentless programme by Australian standards. The England forwards specialist Graham Rowntree, the Wales attack strategist Rob Howley and a majority of the medical, conditioning and analysis staff were involved on the last Lions trek, around South Africa in 2009. The glaringly obvious exception is Andy Farrell, who has beaten his old Wigan mucker Edwards to one of the most prized jobs in the sport.

"It was the most difficult decision I had to make: Shaun is a world-class operator," said Gatland, who partnered Edwards on the '09 tour and still works with him in the Wales set-up. "I felt continuity was important. Sir Ian McGeechan [the most experienced Lions coach of them all] told me a lot of mistakes were made in the past by people starting afresh every four years and trying to reinvent the wheel, and I believe Graham and Rob will draw on their valuable experience in South Africa. But from a selfish perspective, I also wanted someone with fresh ideas, someone who would challenge my own thinking. So many people have spoken so highly of Andy. At the end of the day, that is why the call was made."

The degree of difficulty accompanying the decision was illustrated, all too graphically, by Howley, a close observer of the symbiotic relationship between Gatland and Edwards – something he first witnessed when playing under them at Wasps in the final years of his career as a scrum-half of the highest calibre. Asked how disappointed Edwards felt to have been passed over by so familiar a colleague, his response was of the one-word variety. "Very," he said, quietly.

Farrell has been an international coach for the sporting equivalent of five minutes: a rugby league great whose cross-code switch to union did not bear fruit in the way he had hoped, he spent three years on the Saracens staff before being summoned to England duty a mere 11 months ago by Stuart Lancaster, the man charged with breathing new life into red-rose affairs after the near-death experience of the 2011 World Cup.

Pretty much as honest and up-front as Gatland, the 37-year-old Lancastrian made no bones about the sensitivity of the situation surrounding his appointment. "We come from the same background, Shaun and me," he said. "We come from the same town, we played rugby league together, we're patrons of the same charity, we both won things as players for club and country, I consider myself to be the same kind of competitor… we couldn't be any more similar, could we? We're good friends: when we beat New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, the first text message of congratulations I received was from Shaun, who had just seen Wales lose to Australia in the last second. That was much appreciated. Our paths cross a hell of a lot and we'll speak about this along the way." Had there not been a discussion already? "No, but we will speak."

In Wallaby country, Farrell will major in defence matters, but as with England, he will bring his natural authority and instinctive ability as a motivator to bear across the piece. "The biggest challenge of this gig," he remarked, "is getting a new team to gel fast. It will be all hands on deck, in all areas."

On Tuesday night, the new coaching team picked an "as of now" playing party, thought to include the folk-hero Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll as captain, although the Lions manager, Andy Irvine, said he expected significant changes to the make-up of the squad between now and April, when names are finally named.

Gatland wrapped things up by offering the thought that Australia was "maybe the easiest" of the three Lions touring destinations, New Zealand and South Africa being the others. It was the first of his "grenades", designed to spray a little dirt around the place and put his opponents on edge. It will not be the last.

 



Deadlock over future of the Heineken Cup

A meeting of ERC stakeholders yesterday brought about no agreement regarding the ongoing discussions about the future of the Heineken Cup.

In what was the fourth meeting on the structure of the European club game, no solution could be found, with further talks now planned for 6 February.

Premiership Rugby announced in September that it had signed a new TV deal with BT which could lead to a new-look European Cup.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'