British and Irish Lions 2017: Why Warren Gatland is the right man to try and conquer the All Blacks

Lawrence Dallaglio tells Jack de Menezes why Gatland's experience in New Zealand and knowledge of the Northern Hemisphere game gives the Lions a real shot at victory

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The Independent Online

If the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour taught us anything, it was that Warren Gatland will not shirk his responsibility to make the big calls. In his fourth tour and Lions swansong, Brian O’Driscoll was dropped from the matchday squad by Gatland, and what followed was the most points scored against the Wallabies in the history of the series.

Gatland and his coaching team faced the same tricky task in April when they had to select 41 men to tour New Zealand,  the toughest of them all, with names such as George Ford, Jamie Heaslip and Jonny Gray missing out on selection.

But with a coaching résumé like Gatland’s, the New Zealander shouldn’t be questioned when it comes to potential tour-deciding calls. “It’s the coach’s job to make those big calls,” Lawrence Dallaglio tells The Independent, having served under Gatland at Wasps for three years.

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“He’s the right coach because he gets the Lions and, obviously he’s from New Zealand, but his understanding of the game in the Northern Hemisphere is unprecedented. He’s been on Lions tours as a coach, as an assistant coach, he’s been on successful tours so he knows it all, and also he’s played for Waikato against the Lions, so he knows exactly what’s going on in the hearts and minds of the players that are going to be put out to play the Lions and I think that’s going to be crucial as well.

“I’m a big supporter of him and what he does and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series unfolds.”

While the biggest call for Gatland is out of the way after naming his 41-man squad, the most important ones lie ahead when it comes to choosing his three Test sides to take on and conquer the All Blacks.

“It’s a very strong squad,” Dallaglio adds. “There’s always going to be one or two selections that are going to be down to individual opinions really and as Warren Gatland said, it’s not just about the rugby, it’s about the chemistry between the players on tour etc and it’s a very strong squad.”

Part of Gatland’s role is to manage the squad and rotate regularly during the first four weeks of the tour in order to avoid injuries. But the sad prospect for the unlucky few is that there will be inevitable injuries, and it’s up to the coach to decide the right players required to come into the tour along the way.

“Hopefully everyone will stay injury free,” Dallaglio adds, himself knowing exactly what can happen.

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Dallaglio played under Gatland while at Wasps (Getty)

In 2005, Dallaglio was the first major casualty of the tour when he broke his ankle just 17 minutes into the tour in the opening match against Bay of Plenty. “Inevitably as we’ve already seen with one withdrawal there may well be others, such is the nature of the game. It’s setting up though for a really fascinating tour and Test series.”

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