British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has spoken to clarify a statement that appeared yesterday in an interview with the Evening Standard, where he referenced England’s doomed Rugby World Cup campaign in New Zealand, and the controversy that came with it.
Gatland told the Daily Telegraph: “The last thing I would ever do is limit the number of English players. There is absolutely no limit to the number of any players from any nation we will pick if they are worthy of a place on the tour.
“I would happily pick 15 English players in the first Test at Brisbane if I thought they were the best 15 players for the job,” he continued. “The only consideration for a Lions coach is to get the best 15 on the park to do the job. That’s paramount - I’m not remotely bothered which country they come from.”
Gatland has said in the original interview that “the best players will be selected”, but he also mentioned “it’s just being aware of potential issues that may arise”. He also cited the “circus” that was created around Martin Johnson’s squad, and that he was concerned that it could happen again should the players be the target of a media sting or set-up.
“When I first started at Wales I remember I once picked 13 (from the) Ospreys for one of my early Tests in charge,” Gatland stated - a reference to the team that started the 2008 RBS 6 Nations opener against England when Wales triumphed 26-19 for their first win at Twickenham in 20 years. Indeed, nearly the entire starting line-up that day hailed from the Neath-Swansea side, with former Cardiff Blues flanker Martyn Williams and Llanelli Scarlets wing Mark Jones the only players to play away from the Ospreys.
Rugby Football Union chairman Bill Beaumont issued a response to Gatland’s comments yesterday by reminding everyone of the change in mentality under new coach Stuart Lancaster.
“It is well documented the strong culture and sense of responsibility on and off the pitch that this England team possesses,” said the former Lions captain. “English players have always represented the Lions with enormous pride. Wearing the Lions shirt, whether captain or player, is something that all English players take very seriously. This will undoubtedly continue for those that get picked this time.”