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Lions coach Warren Gatland lifted by England win over All Blacks
Coach says England’s defeat of All Blacks has lifted squad’s confidence for Barbarians clash in Hong Kong
England's stunning victory over the All Blacks during the November internationals will be a "massive boost" for the British & Irish Lions as they look ahead to touring Australia next year, says head coach Warren Gatland.
And it could have played a significant part in the Lions boss picking England's defence and backs' coach, Andy Farrell, over his Wales' assistant, Shaun Edwards, who was part of the coaching team that included Gatland for the 2009 Lions' tour of South Africa.
"I want to have some continuity from the last time but at the same time I would like to introduce a fresh face, too," Gatland told the Sunday Morning Post this week after he named Farrell, Rob Howley and Graham Rowntree as his assistant coaches.
Rowntree steps up into the forwards coaching role that Gatland assumed in 2009, while Howley continues as backs coach. Joining them will be former England dual-code international Farrell. He will act as defence coach for the 10-match tour of Australia, which will include three tests against the Wallabies.
The tour will start on June 1 in Hong Kong when the Lions take on the Barbarians for only the second time in history and the first time offshore.
"I am delighted with the appointments and confident that Rob, Graham, Andy and myself can come together quickly to face one of the hardest rugby challenges," Gatland said.
"Lions' tours are unique as we have to mould together players from four different countries in an incredibly short space of time." There was no room for Edwards who, along with Wales attack coach Howley and England's forwards coach Rowntree, was a member of the coaching staff four years ago when the Lions lost 2-1 to the Springboks. It will be Farrell's first Lions' tour.
"To be honest, picking Andy is a bit of a selfish appointment. It gives me the chance to work with someone with fresh ideas who I haven't worked with before. It will enable me to develop and look at the game differently as well," Gatland said.
England's spectacular 38-21 victory over New Zealand during the autumn tests was hailed as a significant moment by Gatland. That win might have influenced the New Zealander in picking Farrell, one of the English coaches who helped mastermind the end of the All Blacks' 20-match unbeaten run.
"Two results stood out for the Home Unions during the autumn internationals, England's win over New Zealand, which is a huge shot-in-the-arm as we look ahead to the Lions visit to Australia, and Ireland's win over Samoa.
"It could have been even better if Wales had managed to beat Australia. We came so close before losing it in the last 30 seconds," said Gatland, who was in charge of Wales as they lost 14-12.
"While these results were encouraging, I'm sure a lot of teams would have been a bit disappointed overall. If both England and Wales had managed to win on the same day that would have been very significant for the Home Unions, but still it was a massive boost," said Gatland, a former coach of Ireland.
Watching Australia up close last month reconfirmed his views. "I didn't learn anything more than what I knew about how they play but it reminded me that you can never under-estimate them," Gatland said. "After losing to France, everyone expected them to lose to England, too. But the last thing you do is under-estimate the Wallabies."
While any talk of his playing squad was sidestepped with ease, Gatland said the autumn internationals had "helped" confirm a number of players in his mind. He will wait until the end of the Six Nations before announcing his 35-strong squad.
"Subconsciously I have picked 20 to 25 players on form. That is the easy part. The difficult bit is to finalising the last 10 or so players," said Gatland, a former Waikato player who played 17 times for the All Blacks but never in a test.
While Gatland kept mum over his possible choices, former dual-code Wales international Jonathan Davies, now a rugby ambassador for HSBC, sponsors of the Lions, has picked a starting lineup for the first test on June 22 that includes six Welsh players and six Irish players and sees Brian O'Driscoll move to inside centre.
"It is just fabulous that people are already talking and predicting the make-up of the team six months before the tour. Four years ago there wasn't as much interest," Gatland said.