Loose Pass: Foregone conclusions and home advantage

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the lack of options available for British & Irish Lions hot seat and home advantage…

Hobson’s choice

Is there really no one else that could or wants to coach the British & Irish Lions? Warren Gatland is once again at the front of the queue to lead the Lions for the tour of South Africa in 2021.

Former Wales hooker Matthew Rees, who was part of the 2009 squad alongside Gatland, recently said that the Kiwi was the ideal candidate to take charge of the Lions for a third time.

“He is definitely the right choice,” said the ex-Wales captain. “He has been the most consistent northern hemisphere coach in the last 10 years.”

Going undefeated in two tours following a win in Australia and a hugely credible draw in New Zealand, Gatland has clearly got the knack of this whole Lions thing. It’s far more challenging than many realise as the opening to the 2017 tour to New Zealand proved.

Yet the question I find myself asking, and I hope for the sake of difference and quality others find themselves asking too, is does no one else want to coach the Lions? Come 2021 Gatland could’ve been out of a job for nearly two years.

He is set to leave Wales after the Rugby World Cup this year regardless of their performance. Does it not slightly tarnish the concept of the best coaching the best if Gatland can take a breather for two years and then come back all of a sudden?

In all honesty, it is a difficult time to be speculating at all because the World Cup can often make or break careers and that applies as much, if not more, to coaches. We know Joe Schmidt is leaving his post at Ireland and a woeful showing for England could see Eddie Jones ousted.

If so, his replacement could be Gatland but, then again, if Jones leads the Red Rose to the Webb Ellis Cup does he not deserve a shot at leading the Lions brigade in 2021? Too many subplots and not enough time to dissect it all.

Did I mention that Gregor Townsend fella who, just north of the border, encourages his side to play some dazzling rugby and does so with a far smaller pool to choose from than any of the home nations.

You admire the preparation and forward thinking from the Lions management, but so much can change in six months, let alone two years, you almost create a larger problem for yourself.

One has to admire Gatland and all he has achieved, particularly given his Welsh side look New Zealand’s closest challengers this year. Nevertheless, appointing the same man across an eight-year period does sort of suggest the Lions don’t really know what else to do.

Reverting to type is a risky business. Every international team has been guilty of such a thing. It worked last time so let’s just try it again yeah? Well not necessarily. Gatland has, to his credit, evolved with the game and that is why he has just celebrated a third Grand Slam. You sort of get the impression though that the Lions are reliant on his talent papering over their inability to source, or even consider, an alternative. Something they will ultimately have to do sooner rather than later.

Andy Farrell will perhaps be that man in the future, however, having been so influential in recent tours. The Englishman will take over from Schmidt later this year and occupy the main chair with Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

Home advantage

Talking of which, the 51,700-seater stadium was the venue for Leinster knocking over Toulouse to go within one match of retaining their Champions Cup title on Sunday.

The only issue with that win was the choice of stadium itself. Ask yourself, is a ground which hosts one Leinster pool game a year plus their home quarter-final against Ulster really a neutral venue for a match as important as a European semi-final?

I questioned the fairness of Leicester Tigers playing their semi-final against Racing 92 in 2016 30 miles up the road in Nottingham, but this was taking it to new heights.

Both sides are hugely blessed in their resources. Toulouse’s financial might dwarfs the Irish side, but then again the Dubliners do have the luxury of central contracts, meaning their star players are primed for exactly these type of matches. Not to mention a league that places minimal demand on them in comparison to the Top 14.

That is why the venue for matches like a Champions Cup semi-final clash need to be carefully sourced. Home country advantage is certainly something that should remain; Leinster, ultimately, earned it for their performances in the pool stages. Try telling me though that Croke Park wouldn’t have been a more suitable venue?

It’s still in Dublin which would ensure crowds show up, but Leinster’s lack of familiarity would certainly make for a more level playing field. The ERC held a semi-final there in 2009 so they can hardly say it is not suitable or fails to meet any standards.

But hey no, Leinster deserved their win and we have the final most people wanted, and in an ideal venue to ensure Europe gets the treat it deserves.

by Sam Meade