NEW YORK, NY – We finally know who made it into the British and Irish Lions playing squad for their Tour of South Africa, but let’s take a look at the coaching staff under Warren Gatland.
The former Wales head coach takes the Lions on a third tour, emulating predecessor Sir Ian McGeechan in doing this against all three major Southern Hemisphere rugby union nations. New Zealand native Gatland has again chosen Neil Jenkins as kicking coach.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has responsibility for the attack with compatriot Steve Tandy in charge of defence. They join Robin McBryde, who coaches the forwards of Irish province Leinster, on a Lions Tour as staff for the first time. Jenkins, meanwhile, is a veteran and in the backroom for a fourth consecutive time.
Gatland’s blend of fresh faces and experience among his staff is likely to be mirrored in the announcement of the touring squad when it comes. Given that the Lions players have all played international matches for their respective countries in the Six Nations this winter, it’s no wonder they are odds-on favourites among rugby bets to win the series outright.
South Africa may be the reigning world champions and hosts, but haven’t actually played a Test since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan in November 2019. Gatland can choose from the pick of British and Irish for his touring party, which could include a few players born in the Rainbow Nation.
Having not made the squad, Ireland back row CJ Stander did not get the fairy tale ending to his career after he announced he will retire from rugby this summer. Gatland did select Duhan van der Merwe, however, the leading tryscorer in the most recent Six Nations.
The Scotland wing saw older brother Akker capped by South Africa in 2018 at the start of Rugby World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus’ reign, only to not get a look-in since. The siblings could be on opposite sides during this Lions Tour, however, as the Springboks need to replace the retired Schalk Brits at hooker.
History moment: South Africa’s first ever black captain Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Trophy after the Springboks beat England to win the Rugby World Cup final.#RWCFinal #RSAvENG
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— CNN International (@cnni) November 2, 2019
That is not the only enforced change the hosts must make among the forwards either. Francois Louw won’t be lining up in the back row after calling time on his career, but perhaps the most noticeable miss for South Africa will be The Beast at prop.
Tendai Mtawarira has been a superb servant to the Springboks, earning 117 caps. Only record tryscorer Bryan Habana and legendary lock Victor Matfield played more Tests for the Rainbow Nation. The Beast’s loss is a gain for the Lions, who will be glad he isn’t in the scrum.
Despite Jacques Nienaber and Erasmus, who has now reverted to his Director of Rugby role, having to shuffle their forward pack, South Africa aren’t exactly major outsiders at 2.20. Another drawn Lions series like the last one in New Zealand in 2017 doesn’t seem likely to happen again.