Gatland, a New Zealander, said
yesterday in an interview that a large number of English players for
tour to Australia would bring “pressures” on the squad and generate negative
media during the tour.
However, the Lions head coach moved to dampen the furore generated by his
comments ahead of this summer’s much-anticipated tour.
“I am extremely disappointed that anybody should try to misinterpret what I
said and try to say that will count against English players, that’s absolute
b——-,” Gatland told Telegraph Sport.
“The last thing I would ever do is limit the number of English players. There
is absolutely no limit to the number of any players from any nation we will
pick if they are worthy of a place on the tour. And I would happily pick 15
English players in the first Test at Brisbane if I though they were the best
15 players for the job.
“The only consideration for a Lions coach is to get the best 15 on the park to
do the job. That’s paramount, I’m not remotely bothered which country they
come from. When I first started at Wales I remember I once picked 13 Ospreys
for one of my early Tests in charge.”
Gatland had conceded in the Evening Standard that it looked like there
would be a “reasonable England contingent” but added that it brought “a
certain element of – how do I say it – other pressures that come with
selecting a lot of English players.
However, he said that “hand on heart I would never be able to look myself
in the mirror if we didn’t pick a player who deserved to go on Tour because
he was English.”
“I just couldn’t do that to any individual. Morally it is just wrong,”
RFU chairman Bill Beaumont responded yesterday by reminding the New Zealander
of the change in culture adopted by coach Stuart Lancaster that would extend
to any English player picked by the Lions.
“English players have always represented the Lions with enormous pride,”
“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. Those fortunate enough
to get picked will of course take those attributes down under.”