Gatland braced for dirty tricks
Lions coach expecting Wallabies to test them on and off pitch
Last Updated: September 6, 2012 8:08am
Warren Gatland: Is expecting John O'Neil to orchestrate a dirty tricks campaign
Warren Gatland insisted the 2013 British and Irish Lions will be on red alert for an Australian dirty tricks campaign as they prepare to tackle the Wallabies on and off the pitch next summer.
The new Lions coach, who is not averse to some verbal jousting of his own, has pinpointed Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill as the likely ring-leader.
Gatland claimed that O'Neill's behind-the-scenes complaints about referee Bryce Lawrence contributed to Australia's World Cup quarter-final victory over South Africa.
The Lions head Down Under for a 10-match tour that will climax in three Tests against the Wallabies - and Gatland will be on his guard from the moment they land.
"They are masters at it and possibly the best one was John O'Neill, as a master of influence in certain things," Gatland said.
"I don't see any better example than how the (World Cup) quarter-final between South Africa and Australia was influenced. It was a master stroke.
"I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think that after Ireland beat Australia in that pool game, certain complaints were made about the referee (Lawrence), subtly and tactfully, and I think that had an impact on the quarter-final.
"We've got to be aware about what sort of things are going to be done on and off the field.
"I'm not decrying it - what he (O'Neill) did was absolutely outstanding for his nation."
Lawrence came in for stinging criticism for his quarter-final performance, not least from Springboks captain John Smit who said: "The one positive (of retirement) is that I won't ever have to be reffed by him again."
In 2001, O'Neill sought to counter the sea of red Lions supporters by handing out gold scarves and hats to Australia fans for the memorable Test series won, in the dying seconds, by the Wallabies.
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In the week of the 2003 World Cup final, an Australian newspaper urged fans to make noise outside the England team hotel and even set off fire alarms.
Gatland is expecting more of the same 'Pommie bashing' next summer, when the Lions embark on their 125th anniversary tour.
"We're aware of the things off the field - giving out hats, jerseys and t-shirts, there's going to be an orchestrated campaign in Australia to build them up and potentially make things difficult for us," Gatland said.
"I've got a huge amount of respect for what John O'Neill has done in terms of leading Australian sport - he's a master at what he does.
"We've just got to be aware of what sort of things might be happening behind the scenes to put us off."
Gatland is not averse to indulging in mind games himself, as England hooker Dylan Hartley will testify after the Wales coach piled the pressure on him before a Six Nations match.
The spicy comments about O'Neill were made only hours after being officially appointed as Lions coach - and 10 months before his squad fly Down Under.
Hartley's response at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 and his performances for England since will no doubt have impressed Gatland, who is now turning his mind to Lions selection.
Gatland flew to France today to discuss the release of potential Lions tourists such as Gethin Jenkins, Mike Phillips and James Hook with their Top 14 clubs Toulon, Bayonne and Perpignan.
The French Top 14 final is on June 1, the same day as the Lions play the first match of their 125th anniversary tour against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
With the Lions determined that the whole squad depart on tour together on May 27, Gatland will consider leaving key men behind if they cannot secure release to miss the final.
Toulon are the club most likely to reach the final and it is understood that Jenkins' contract does not contain a release clause.
In that instance it would be down to Bernard Laporte to agree to Jenkins' release and there were mixed views on what stance the club would take.
Jenkins and Andrew Sheridan have shared the loose-head prop starting responsibilities for Toulon so far this season but both players have always been included in the 23-man matchday squad.