Heart of the Lions

Our panel of experts looked at the challenge Warren Gatland faces to get the selection and game plan right for a successful Lions tour to Australia

Last Updated: 12/04/13 12:55pm

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will name his squad for the tour to Australia on April 30 and speculation as to who will go continues to intensify.

"It was a mistake and there must be players from other countries to come into it - you cannot base Lions selection on one game. Wales were not that impressive for the first four games of the tournament. A blend across the board will make it a good and happy tour."

JJ Williams

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Wales look likely to get the lion's share of the seats on the plane down under after their 30-3 demolition of England in the final round of the Six Nations.

However, Wales legend JJ Williams hopes Gatland does not make the same mistakes that were made in 1977.

"Wales won the Triple Crown that year and out of the 30 players who were picked for the Lions, 17 were Welsh," said the former Wales winger.

"We took some uncapped players and they were not quite good enough when it came to the crunch. It was in New Zealand mind you, which is a far more difficult tour than Australia, provincial-game-wise.

"It was a mistake and there must be players from other countries to come into it - you cannot base Lions selection on one game. Wales were not that impressive for the first four games of the tournament. A blend across the board will make it a good and happy tour."

Dean Ryan says that the challenge Gatland will have is getting that balance right and says that following the Wales blueprint will not mean success in Australia.

"I think it is going to be a real challenge how Gatland approaches Australia," explained the former England backrower.

"Wales do not have a fantastic record against the southern hemisphere - specifically against Australia. A lot of their tactics in the Six Nations were to kick the ball long and then back themselves defensively.

"You can do that in the northern hemisphere where the weather conditions impact what you do, but when you have the likes of James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper it is a dangerous tactic. Gatland has to look tactically at what works in the southern hemisphere.

"I think there will be a move to a bigger set-piece but the danger of that is if he comes too far across towards the set-piece then he loses some of the fluidity in the running game. It is a huge challenge to get the selection right and style of play right.

"When you look at that Welsh front eight it is pretty hard to leave any of them out.

"Yes you have to add some power but where does that power come from? Gatland has to find something different to the Wales model - they have played Australia five times recently and lost five times - Lions rugby is different to national rugby and they have to find a different identity - who he brings in to add that will be interesting."

Maximum damage

Former Ireland prop Paul Wallace, who along with Tom Smith and Keith Wood built a formidable platform for the Lions last series victory in South Africa 16 years ago, says that Gatland will be looking to his pack to cause maximum damage in Australia.

"Gatland being a really shrewd front row man is really going to address that area. He would have seen England beating Australia over the years by completely dominating them through the scrum.

"A bit like French club rugby where you just demolish your opposition upfront and then create the space to play, upfront is where they need to put the pressure on. You cannot go to Australia and play a loose, free-flowing game.

"That would be playing right into their hands. The Lions also need that emotional bond that Willie John McBride talks about, that brotherhood. If you get that into the mix then you go with a genuine chance of winning a series."

Who will lead the Lions?

Our panel of experts also gave their views on who should lead the Lions with Sam Warburton and Brian O'Driscoll coming out as the front runners.

"At 4.59pm last Saturday Chris Robshaw was my Lions captain, explained three times Lions tour veteran Will Greenwood.

"We cannot forget that England decimated an All Black team that had gone 18 on the spin - you cannot just ignore that. However I have watched that game a few more times and come to understand Gatland's relationship with Sam Warburton and you begin to think that Gatland will feel comfortable with Warburton at the helm.

"I have switched slightly. I know that Robshaw will be on that plane but I would go for Sam Warburton as captain."

Dean Ryan agrees: "When you are making your selection for skipper you are also making your first Test selection. People talk about having a tour captain but you want someone who is going to take you through the Test games. Is it Robshaw pre-Millennium Stadium game or is it Warburton post that game?

"Warburton has handled himself throughout the Six Nations fantastically well. For me Warburton looks like the Test No.7."

Surprisingly JJ Williams has not gone gone for Warburton - or any Welshman. Instead he wants a player who has been there and done that and for him there is only one man that fits the bill.

"I would not pick Warburton as captain myself," added Williams, who scored four tries in seven appearances for the Lions.

"I would go for Brian O'Driscoll because the man at the helm of the British and Irish Lions should be a big player. O'Driscoll knows all about the pressures and it is a difficult thing to do. Warburton for me is a little too inexperienced and will be a new Lion.

"I would think Brian O'Driscoll would be a certainty for the Test team - you are not going to bash your way through Australia with Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts. Wales have tried that five times and failed, so the Lions need to try something different and for me O'Driscoll and Manu Tuilagi are the centre pairing."

While Paul Wallace is not sure the Lions skipper should be a definite starter he does agree that O'Driscoll would be a good choice.

"For me they have to decide if the captain is going to be a definite starter. Adam Jones is a definite starter but he is not a captain - there are one or two other definite starters but they are not captains.

"What is also very important is the lieutenants under the captain, they will be just as important - sometimes it is the midweek games that swings the tour.

"But for me the man who would handle all the pressure would be Brian O'Driscoll. He would have the respect of every single player - this would be his fourth Lions tour which is an amazing achievement."