Warren Gatland has revealed he will never coach the British and Irish Lions again and has responded to critical comments from Seán O’Brien following the tour last summer.
The Lions’ 2017 tour of New Zealand was largely considered a success given the fact many fancied the All Blacks to win the contest outright. The Lions, however, picked up a draw on the other side of the world.
Managing a feat like this would for most head coaches mean looking back with fondness on a job well done but for Gatland it appears the tour will leave a bitter taste in the mouth due to the pressure he was put under both on and off the playing field.
“I wouldn’t subject myself to that,” Gatland said when pressed on returning to Lions duty once again.
“What I’ve learned from my Lions’ experiences is how difficult it is to put some continuity together in terms of people and staff and the lack of preparation time… let someone else do it. Let someone else reinvent the wheel.
“I’m done. I hated the tour. I did. I just hated the press and the negativity in New Zealand. When I look back on it now there were a lot of things that were satisfying and what an achievement it was but it was tough work. It was hard.
“You watch how hard the coaches and the backroom staff worked – they worked their absolute bollocks off on that tour – and then to have someone come out and make a comment like that… it really, really did hurt.”
Following the tour, Ireland’s O’Brien openly criticised the coaching staff he had been working under for the summer, which Gatland has taken exception to, particularly the manner in which the Leinster man expressed his views.
“I have to be honest – it took a bit of the gloss off the Lions tour. If he wanted to say something then there is a different forum rather than being critical.
“No-one has ever in the history of the game taken on a tour of that magnitude or difficulty. Did we learn as coaches from that experience? Would we have done some things differently? Of course, we would. That’s part of coaching, part of the experience. If he was going to make some comments, then he could have done so in a different way.
“I rang and left a message to say I was disappointed,” Gatland continued.
“He texted me three weeks later to say that he had just cleared his voicemail. And that he had been taken out context, or some things. I texted to say he could call me at any time but I’ve not heard back from him.
“There’s no doubt Sean O’Brien had a fantastic tour. He played exceptionally well. There’s no doubt about his contribution on the playing field, he was excellent. In the changing room, as a voice, from a leadership point of view, he contributed extremely well. It’s only fair to acknowledge that. He was outstanding in the way that he did play and contribute.”
However, getting into the specifics of what O’Brien said, particularly his insistence that the Lions should have won the tour 3-0, this is what the 54-year-old had to say:
“I don’t know what planet he’s on but I was on a different tour to him if he thought we should have won comfortably.”
Gatland now reverts his attention back to Wales duty as they look ahead to their November internationals against Australia, Georgia and, ironically enough, New Zealand next month.
Gatland has clearly had enough of coaching the Lions but his comments may now prove a deterrent to other coaches with one eye on the job. The pressures of managing players from four different unions in your homeland were always going to be immense but for anyone stepping into his shoes it’s a tough ask, particularly given the hectic nature of the domestic game today.
One thing is for sure, this won’t be the last we’ve heard regarding Gatland’s comments on the Lions tour.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena