Putting aside the current status of the Hansen-Gatland relationship at love-in, one really peculiar thing about this whole Lions tour is that if a Man or Personality of the tour were to be nominated at its conclusion, the chosen one would likely not come from within the enormous playing group. In fact, if the selection were based solely on media attention alone, the winner by about the length of a traditional Stephen Jones tirade against the All Blacks, would actually be Warren Gatland himself.
Possibly the most curious thing about it all is that Gatland is not really the personality type that normally invites obsession. He isn’t loud, colourful or particularly charismatic. Imagine if Eddie Jones were here. The media would probably almost make us forget that there was an actual team along with him.
Is that outcome really that surprising though? Because we have been in the era of the cult of the coach for a good period. It has just taken Rugby a while longer to submit to the phenomenon than football, which began to a great degree with Brian Clough and now a generation later with people like Jose Mourinho in tandem with the ever-growing tentacles of social media putting the ‘gaffer’ under the spotlight.
And if anything, it is our media who have been just as, and if not more guilty than their British counterparts, of driving Gatty just a little batty. The column inches devoted to the Lions head coach is so saturation-level that you almost get the impression that were Gatland to scratch his right earlobe for slightly longer than is usual in the presence of the media it would be instantly interpreted and subsequently reported as a signal that he is going to drop his number one loosehead prop to the bench (or something). A complete exaggeration, but you get the idea. The continuing obsession with Gatland may have something to do with the fact he is a prominent New Zealander coaching against the All Blacks. Is that actually the most defining factor in the constant attention?
Naturally it is a part of the media’s m.o. to harvest rumour and feed it to us in big speculative dollops, but is Gatty actually letting things get to him more than he cares to think? You would have to say unequivocally yes, judging by his almost unfathomable decision in the Hurricanes match to not empty his bench of the recent, injury-necessitated additions to the squad because of his reported fear of a potentially adverse media reaction, along the lines of cheapening the Lions’ jersey.
Since when did an international rugby coach ever kowtow to anything the media may have thought or not? (Bear in mind also, not one British media person explicitly stated in their Hurricanes game preview about any de-valuing of the Lions jersey regarding the players on the bench). It was by some distance the most startling statement/revelation of the tour; coming as it did on the back of a couple of other recent eyebrow raisers.
All said and done, Warren Gatland absolutely has his work cut out in looking for a way to nullify and beat the All Blacks tomorrow. The only scrums he will care about won’t or shouldn’t be media ones. Things he may have regretted that he previously said will surely just become what Sharon O’Neill once sang about:
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