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Gatland ups ante: Lions must win for survival

Date

Mick Cleary

Unveiled ... the British and Irish Lions' coaching team.

Unveiled ... the British and Irish Lions' coaching team. Photo: Reuters

ON THE day that he unveiled Andy Farrell as one of his assistant coaches, Warren Gatland conceded that the credibility of the Lions was at stake if they returned from Australia without a series victory.

Gatland also admitted it had been the hardest decision of his life to break the news to long-time friend and coaching ally, Shaun Edwards, that he would be taking Edwards's former Wigan teammate, Farrell, rather than him as one of the three assistant coaches.

Farrell was paraded in the opulent surroundings of Hopetoun House just outside Edinburgh, and hailed as one of those hired to not only help beat the Wallabies but also to save the Lions brand in the process. There was no attempt to downplay the fact that another series defeat, which would be the Lions' fourth since victory in South Africa 15 years ago, would threaten the credibility of the iconic touring side.

''All the discussion after the 2005 trip to New Zealand was of wondering if the Lions were dead and would they be scrapped,'' Gatland said.

That prospect was also acknowledged by assistant coach Rob Howley, who was involved in the 2009 tour to South Africa. ''Those questions will continue to be asked until a Lions series is won,'' he said.

Gatland immediately upped the ante for the trip by describing Australia as ''the easiest place to tour''. He said: ''If you'd said to me, out of the three southern hemisphere teams, pick your choice of where you'd like to go, I would've said Australia probably.''

Gatland was wary of the Wallabies using off-field diversionary tactics as a means of unsettling visiting teams. ''They will do whatever it takes to get a result,'' said the Lions head coach, rather well-equipped himself in the sledging stakes.

Farrell spoke of travelling with Wigan as an 18-year-old to take on the Brisbane Broncos in rugby league's World Club Challenge in 1994. ''We weren't given a cat in hell's chance of going over there in their backyard, and there were 62,000 there that day, a full house and we turned them over,'' he said.

''It was a big shock for everyone. That's what stayed with me. Australia is a real sport-loving nation. There will be a lot of old tricks of the trade coming our way on a six-week tour. They'll try to get stuck into us, try to ruffle our feathers.

''But you look at the players that the British and Irish Lions are going to take over, and you can't not be full of confidence.''

Farrell is aware of the his privileged position, barely a year since he was drafted from Saracens by England's Stuart Lancaster to take on his first coaching role in international rugby. He fleetingly backtracked on that decision when opting to stay with Saracens after the previous year's Six Nations championship, only to change his mind. That his rise has been swift will not have been lost on Edwards, who has many more years of experience to offer, a Lions tour three years ago included.

''You couldn't get any more similar than me and Shaun, from the same background,'' Farrell said. ''He was the first to text me after we beat the All Blacks even though Wales had just lost to Australia. We're good friends. We haven't spoken [about the Lions] but we will.

''It's been a hell of a year so far. It's unbelievable. I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity like this early in a coaching career. It's something I'm very proud of as well. It's always been a dream to be associated in some way with a Lions tour.''

The Lions coaches went through the process of choosing a putative 36-man squad on Tuesday night, excluding those who were injured. The third assistant coach, Graham Rowntree, revealed that it had taken them an hour to decide on the composition of the back row alone.

Hopetoun House was once the ancestral home of the governor-general of Australia. That post has become a relic of the past. Every effort was being made yesterday to ensure the Lions did not follow suit.

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Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
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Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
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Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
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Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
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Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
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ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
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Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
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