Having been at the core of the British & Irish Lions coaching staff for the past three tours, Warren Gatland and Rob Howley know a thing or two about how to keep a squad of players from four different countries united.
Which is why the selection of Liam Williams and Elliot Daly in the back three for this morning’s first Test against the All Blacks following their performances in Tuesday’s emphatic win over the Chiefs sent out all the right signals to the players who presumed they had been handed the poisoned pre-Test chalice of midweek duty in Hamilton.
Gatland caught even his players by surprise with his Test selection and a fortunate by-product will be that those names for Lions duty against the Hurricanes on Tuesday have an increased incentive to put their best foot forward.
That’s what attack coach Howley was suggesting yesterday as he replied to a question about the 2017 squad continuing to improve beyond today’s first Test.
“I think we tried to get the most out of the players and the learnings from 2009 and 2013 is that you have to give players the opportunity to put their hand up for a Test spot. With the first three games we gave everyone the opportunity.
“I think the Saturday performances against the Crusaders and the Maori stood out and that’s why there was such delight for the players on Tuesday. I think that when you get selected as a Lions player, you need to be given a chance, and we’ve kept to what we said to the players back in May that even playing on that Tuesday, if you put your hand up and you’re good enough (you will be considered for the Test team).
“You can either be a lucky Lion or an unlucky Lion depending on when you get selected — you could be playing in a game you win by 60 points and all of a sudden your name is at the forefront of Test selection.
“That’s the nature of a Lions series and no doubt when you look back to 2013 and the changes that we made (nine from the first Test side against Australia), that was the victory and we were picking someone else between the first Test and the third Test.
“That was the message to the players on Tuesday night, that motivation intrinsic or extrinsic is so important, I think you saw that in terms of their performance and for me seeing those players come in at the end was unbelievable and it was great to be in that changing room because the confidence and belief that they’ve got in winning in a Lions jersey — because it’s tough to win any Test match or a game in New Zealand – they’ll have their self-belief and confidence going into the Hurricanes game as well.”
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