It’s possible to argue that Warren Gatland is already the most successful British and Irish Lions manager in the history of rugby union. At least, that’s what Sam Warburton, his former captain for Wales, thinks. A victory over Australia and a draw against New Zealand means the coach has the opportunity to make history by recording three straight undefeated Lions tours.
This time, the Lions go into the series as the overall favourites, which symbolises the impact the Kiwi has had on rugby in the British Isles. Every fan wants to know if he can go one step further. You’ll be glad to hear that the omens look good so far.
Stuart Hogg as Captain is a Masterstroke
After being dropped for crucial games last season by the Exeter Chiefs, the logical assumption is that Stuart Hogg would struggle to break into the Lions first team. Gatland, though, is an out-of-the-box thinker, and he’s gone a different way. He’s made Hogg his captain.
A definite starter, Hogg will be at the centre of everything positive the Lions do over the summer. The reason this is a smart move is that Scotland’s number 15 won’t doubt his worth to the team before a ball is thrown in anger.
Having his credentials questioned by his domestic club will lead to uncertainty in Hogg’s mind, and Gatland knows he can’t afford that to happen. Therefore, taking the armband away from Alun Wyn Jones, a man who may not be fit, and awarding it to an experienced, high-quality player should settle the entire squad down.
Owen Farrell at 12 is Unleashed
Farrell has multiple qualities that make him a world-class fly-half. Still, the stats show that his best position seems to be at inside centre, even if he wouldn’t agree. Take his performances for England as examples. In the Six Nations post-2015, England only won four Test matches in the tournament with Farrell at ten.
When you evaluate the guys who perform consistently in the role, like Dan Biggar, it’s a no-brainer to move him out of the pocket. What makes the move sweeter is that guaranteed starters such as Farrell and Biggar understand that there are players behind them champing at the bit for an opportunity.
As a result, you’re likely to see these two guys at the top of their games when the first Test match against South Africa kicks off in earnest at the end of July. If they aren’t, Finn Russell, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw will fancy their chances.
The Schedule Deals with the Conditions
Altitude is one of the threats of playing in South Africa. Gatland knows this better than anyone, which is why he’s devised a comprehensive schedule that will have his men fighting fit for the whole series. With the rugby union betting odds placing the Lions as 4/6 favourites, they can’t take risks with the unknown.
The good news for Lions fans is that Gatland’s troops are due to play five warm-up games in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town prior to the series. Seeing as Cape Town and Johannesburg are the hosts of the three Test matches, the conditions shouldn’t play a part as everyone should be accustomed to the climate.
If this wasn’t the case, the 13/10 odds for the world champions would appear generous, especially after routing Georgia 40-9 recently.
With the captaincy, fly-half and altitude issues all sorted, it will boil down to who is the best side over the three matches. South Africa aren’t pushovers, yet, on paper, the Lions have more than enough firepower to make history under Gatland.