Gatland Lions row after 'circus' comment about English rugby
Wales and Lions coach under fire for suggesting English players could cause problems Down Under
THE BRITISH and Irish Lions rugby tour of Australia this summer has been rocked by a selection row after Warren Gatland, the Wales coach who will take charge of the team, expressed reservations about selecting too many English players because of the "circus" they could create.
The comments, which come midway through the Six Nations championship, are unlikely to help relations between the home nations ahead of the tour, and have already earned Gatland a rebuke from Bill Beaumont, the chairman of English rugby and a former Lions captain.
Gatland raised the spectre of England's shambolic 2011 World Cup campaign, marred by a series of off-field indiscretions, and said the presence of too many English players in the squad would bring a "certain element of - how do I say it - other pressures".
He told the London Evening Standard that he wanted to avoid the kind of "circus" that undermined England's campaign in 2011. "People like having a pop at them," he said, and added that the English players could be the target of "stings through the media or set-ups trying to create controversy".
Beaumont responded last night by saying that English players represented the Lions, a team made up of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with "enormous pride" and took it "very seriously".
The Guardian said his response was "magisterial" and that Gatland was judging the England players on "the sins of their predecessors and in particular those who played in the 2011 World Cup".
But Gatland's comments were "bound to spark anger" in the England squad, said the Daily Mail. "The Kiwi coach charged with overseeing a first series victory since 1997 is renowned for hurling verbal grenades at the opposition, but this is an unprecedented case of friendly fire."
Last night Gatland tried to diffuse the row, and told the Daily Telegraph: "I would happily pick 15 English players in the first Test at Brisbane if I thought they were the best 15 players for the job.
"Hand on heart I would never be able to look myself in the mirror if we didn't pick a player who deserved to go on Tour because he was English. I just couldn't do that to any individual. Morally it is just wrong." ·