British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland reckons English players are targeted
Last Updated: 12/02/13 9:08pm
Warren Gatland: selecting England players brings other pressures
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland believes English players are targeted by both the media and opposing players.
England are the only unbeaten side so far in the Six Nations and Gatland admitted if their success continued they will be rewarded.
However, he warned that by having a large contingent of English players he could be opening his touring party to greater scrutiny from the media, not least because of well-publicised problems during the World Cup of 2011.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Gatland said: "If they do well in the Six Nations, there will be a reasonable contingent of English players. But that brings a certain element of - how do I say it - other pressures that come with selecting a lot of English players.
"It becomes a much greater media focus from the English papers; potentially a negative focus from the Australian papers. And English players are targeted by other countries.
"[They are] not always the most popular with other countries because of the history. People like having a pop at them.
"We all know what happened with England at the World Cup and the circus that was created.
"I've just got to be aware of the possibilities that, if there are a number of English players on the tour, the same sort of things could be instigated, through stings through the media or set-ups trying to create controversy."
While he urged caution, Gatland was keen to emphasise his trust in his squad, providing they keep their discipline.
He said: "These are young men filled up with a lot of testosterone and sometimes they need to go out and just unwind. But it's essential these players know what their boundaries are.
"The way I work, it's not a dictatorship; it's a consultation with the other coaches and senior players or the captain.
"You might say to players, 'Go out for a couple of hours and have a beer and maybe you're back in the hotel by one o'clock', particularly with night games."
RFU chairman Bill Beaumont responded by reminding the New Zealander of the change in culture adopted by Lancaster that would extend to any English player picked by the Lions.
"English players have always represented the Lions with enormous pride," Beaumont said.
"I was lucky enough to be captain in 1980, Martin Johnson skippered the team to the famous 1997 series win, as well as leading the side for a historic second time, when going down to Australia.
"Wearing the Lions shirt, whether captain or player, is something that all English players take very seriously. This will undoubtedly continue for those that get picked this time.
"It is well documented the strong culture and sense of responsibility on and off the pitch that this England team possesses.