Allan Massie: Warren Gatland should ignore Sean O’Brien

Sean O'Brien thinks the Lions would have won all the Tests against the All Blacks with better coaching. Picture: Getty.
Sean O'Brien thinks the Lions would have won all the Tests against the All Blacks with better coaching. Picture: Getty.
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I doubt if we should pay much attention to Sean O’Brien’s claim that the Lions would have won all three Tests against the All Blacks if they had been better coached. Most of us thought that the Lions did better than expected in drawing the series, though apparently the prop Mako Vunipola has said that the Lions would have won if Eddie Jones had been the coach; perhaps, perhaps not. Of course, coaches, like football managers, are held responsible for failure, which is fair enough if only because they are given credit for success. But it’s not coaches who miss tackles or drop passes, just as they don’t score tries or kick penalties. Still one now reads that Gatland is going to “confront” O’Brien. He might do better just to shrug his shoulders and prepare Wales to beat Ireland in the Six Nations.

There were, however, two more interesting off-the-field matters this week. The RFU came up with a proposal to satisfy, or at least appease, the English Premiership clubs who resent losing players to international duty. Conscious that the earlier suggestion that the Six Nations be squeezed into five weeks with no fallow weekends hasn’t found favour – to put it mildly – with other Unions, they now propose that England and France should sit out the first weekend and play each other on the first of the fallow ones. This would mean a six week tournament for them rather than the present seven week one. Consequently, clubs would have their players for one week more. It’s a compromise which might bite back on them, since having only one weekend off during the tournament might well result in more injuries, and, of course, less time to recover.

The French view of the plan hasn’t yet been reported, so far as I know, but I daresay club owners there might be just as enthusiastic as their English counterparts. I don’t know whether Eddie Jones has been consulted. I wouldn’t have thought that either he or Guy Noves would be wildly keen. The best that can be said for the idea is that it’s a lot better, and considerably less arrogant, than one floated a dozen or so years ago; that would have had the England-France match always played on the last day of the tournament on the grounds that it would be the title decider. Since then, of course, Wales and Ireland have won more titles than England and France.

More interesting was a SRU Press release about some law adaptations to be adopted for a series of 40-minute academy matches in October. These are intended to promote “high tempo dynamic play” and to encourage players to think for themselves. The list is quite a long one, but it includes several imaginative ideas. Restarts from the half-way line must land between the opposition 10-metre and 22-metre lines. This is to encourage competition for the ball and develop the skill of fielding it in the air. Likewise, 22-drop-outs must land short of the halfway line. Given the number of times one has seen Scotland fail to gather an opposition kick-off, anything that may improve skills in this area seems good.

Only 30 seconds are to be allowed for throwing in at the line-out and there is to be no preliminary huddle or pre-calling. This idea might usefully be translated into the Laws of the game. The lengthy confabulation and slow trudge to the line-out by the throwing-in team are a tiresome bore, a preliminary that seems to take longer every season. Referees should check it, but rarely do. There is a similar provision for the set scrum – where any offence will merit a free kick and there are to be no resets. I doubt if this is something that could be transferred to the full game, tiresome though reset scrums are, but the suggestion that there should be no scrum option for a team awarded a free kick or penalty has much to commend it. Who knows? It might even encourage teams to go for a quick clean heel. All conversions are to be taken by drop-kicks as in sevens. I sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t take the place kick out of the game entirely. It eats up time, especially now that kickers require a tee to be brought on and cannot apparently kick at goal without first having a swig of water.

Not all these adaptations can suitably be written into the laws, but it’s nice to see evidence of some imaginative thinking emanating from the SRU. A bit of a change from the time when one SRU president said that, when any new proposal was made, “First, we say no. Then we think about it and say no again”.