Former England and British and Irish Lions first five-eighths Stuart Barnes believes next year’s Lions should adopt an attacking policy for their tour of New Zealand.
In his SkySports column Barnes said a recent discussion he had with Lions coach Warren Gatland showed the New Zealander was excited about the challenge ahead, but well aware of how difficult the tour would be.
“I asked him if he felt New Zealand were getting further and further away from the rest of the rugby world. He said yes they are and there is no doubt about that. Compared to the Lions’ success in Australia [under Gatland in 2013], Gatland knows that winning in New Zealand would dwarf it – it would dwarf any achievement in his coaching capacity,” Barnes said.
As one who had been a critic of Gatland because his Wales side had been ‘one dimensional’ and not always using the talent available, Barnes said he was interested in the more expansive rugby Wales played in New Zealand in June.
“Initially, as an analyst, you think that the only way to beat New Zealand is to close them down. However, Gatland has taken the positive approach. He was of the opinion that they [NZ] had moved the goalposts so fast that you could not just shut them down – you had to play rugby against them.
“Two weeks ago I would have said ‘keep it tight’ but lately I have been coming around to his way of thinking and that you are going to have to give players like George North a lot of ball.
“I have had issues tactically with him but he is an excellent coach as far as man management goes. He stimulates his own players and raises doubts in the opposition. This All Blacks side don’t look like a team that doubt themselves very much but Gatland as a Kiwi understands psychologically how to press buttons.”
Part of that would be about getting the players from the four Home Unions to bound into a forceful unit and Barnes believed Gatland was capable of achieving that.
Barnes said it was early days in terms of who would make the team but he believed England would be well represented as a result of last year’s Grand Slam and their 3-0 series win in Australia in June.
“The capacity to win in the southern hemisphere is something we in the north don’t know very well. That three-nil win is significant even if Australia are not the All Blacks, so right now I would say that the English contingent would have a head start,” Barnes said.