THEY like to talk a lot about ‘leaders’, these British and Irish Lions.
There’s leaders here, leaders there, leaders everywhere, when you hear them in front of the cameras.
On the pitch, not so much, though. And not in the coaches’ box, either.
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Head coach Warren Gatland is allowing the wheels to come off this tour through a lack of decisive leadership.
It wasn’t just that the Lions blew a 16-point half-time lead, thanks to Iain Henderson being sin-binned for a spear tackle, as their midweek team failed to win for a third time in four outings.
It was more the unnecessary controversy over the ‘Geography Six’ — those Wales and Scotland players who were recruited as back-ups in favour of stronger players such as Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury and Garry Ringrose, simply because their own national teams had been touring in the region.
Having caused a firestorm by supposedly devaluing the Lions shirt, Gatland now admits he has not been able to maintain the courage of his convictions.
He now confesses he had been swayed by condemnation from ex-pros and pundits — an extraordinary admission from a head coach who needs to be steadfast and single-minded in order to secure an improbable series victory over the world champion All Blacks.
And so here he was, four days before the Second Test at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, feeling unable to use his own bench.
This meant that George North was not able to have his planned 80-minute audition on the wing because he had to move to midfield to replace Robbie Henshaw early on.
And it led to the extraordinary sight of Wales prop Tomas Francis, one of the poor geography boys, taking his bib off and on three times when Dan Cole was struggling in the closing stages and never quite managing to become a Lion.
Scotland’s Finn Russell did make a very brief appearance in place of Dan Biggar to officially earn the status of Lion No 835 — but in all, only two of the ‘Geography Six’ were capped and their call-ups became a cause for confusion.
Gatland said: “So much was made about devaluing the jersey, so we made a decision that we would try to get through the game with as many of the starting XV as we could.
“Possibly that criticism affected things. You may have been a little bit more positive about bringing those players on fresh otherwise.
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“But so much was made of that and I understand people’s views, so you’ve got to take cognisance of that.
“So we made a collective decision that we use them as injury replacements.”
You can overstate the importance of these midweek fixtures, of course, but victory would have boosted morale and a few more players might have worked their way into contention for Saturday as the Lions look to square the series with New Zealand.
Irish lock Henderson had been one of the major plus points — and yet it was he who caused the ‘massive swing’ which Gatland admitted cost the Lions victory when he dumped Jordie Barrett on his back with a dangerous tackle 13 minutes out.
Moments earlier North had put his foot into touch to deny himself a second try and what would have been a 19-point lead — yet within minutes, it was all square as Wes Goosen and Vaea Fifita went over for the Hurricanes.
Gatland suggested that the second-row pair of Henderson and Courtney Lawes were the only two to seriously push their cases for Test inclusion, even though the Irishman’s late brainstorm may cost him at tonight’s selection meeting.
This tetchy affair, with bouts of rampant handbaggery throughout, began with a rare moment of joy for the lesser-spotted Scottish Lions as Greig Laidlaw made an interception and break and fed his compatriot Tommy Seymour to score.
After Henshaw’s withdrawal, Biggar kicked his second penalty from halfway before the Lions were pegged back by Callum Gibbins bundling over for a Hurricanes try.
Yet after Nehe Milner- Skudder dropped an up-and-under and Henderson retrieved it, North went over and Biggar’s kicking handed the Lions a 23-7 lead at the break.
Ngani Laumape scored a try for the hosts and sent Biggar off for a head injury assessment in the same action.
But when Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi saw yellow for a high tackle on Cole, Seymour went over from a cute Jack Nowell pass and the Lions were 14 points to the good.
Then came the late meltdown, on the pitch and later off it, as Gatland bemoaned a ‘personal campaign’ against him from the Kiwi media, after one newspaper depicted him as a clown for his accusations of All Black dirty tricks.
It’s all rather strange to get so worked up by coverage in both the New Zealand and British media.
And it really does make you wonder what happened to all that ‘leadership’ they keep telling us about.