Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Coaches under microscope as pressure mounts

Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Brett  Phibbs
Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There's always talk about how well, or not, players handle pressure. But the real pressure this June, is on the respective coaching teams of the leading international sides.

And it's already apparent that some coaches are handling things better than others. Most under pressure is Wales coach Warren Gatland.

He arrived in New Zealand as the Lions-coach-in-waiting and in the space of just 10 days, he's done an enormous amount to damage his prospects.

Wales were good for 60 minutes at Eden Park, which is a source of concern, not pride. Wales competed well in all the right areas, but the point to take is that they lacked the depth of conditioning and personnel to hang in there for the full 80.

This is a test side with aspirations to beat the best in the world and they ran out of puff with 20 minutes to go and lost by 20 points to an All Blacks side that would probably only award themselves six out of 10.

The bigger worry is the way Gatland took ever greater, needless risks against the Chiefs.

There's the question of why Wales, who were long reluctant to agree to a three-test series in New Zealand for fears they didn't have the depth of resource, were playing an extra fixture?

Was Gatland hoping to give his players a taste of what they could expect on a Lions tour? Was he hoping that he, too, would be able to display his Lions credentials by coaching and selecting smartly?

Whatever his intention, the fact he kept gambling as the game slipped away will have done his chances of coaching the Lions harm.

Having started test captain Sam Warburton he then threw other key test figures Toby Faletau, Bradley Davies and Jamie Roberts into the fray to try to salvage the game. All he achieved was taking another 30-40 minutes of running out of them ahead of the test in Wellington.

The reality now is that Wales face an extraordinary test of courage to find the mental and physical energy to compete against the All Blacks. They could only go for 60 in Auckland and now they aren't a good bet to even go that long in Wellington.

As for how they will fare in the perfect conditions of Dunedin against an All Blacks side that might have found a bit of form and confidence by then - it could turn ugly.

Under similar pressure is Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. He's talked about building hardness in the squad and yet they couldn't match England physically in Brisbane. They couldn't get their set piece right and they didn't do much, if anything, that England weren't expecting.

Cheika's had a dream run to date. But the pressure of having a former Wallabies coach helming England seems to be getting to the Aussies.

They can legitimately put the first loss down to rustiness. That won't wash this week, though, and Cheika needs to conjure solutions.

How the Wallabies respond to the pressure will give the world its first insight into Cheika's ability to perform when the heat is really on.

- NZ Herald

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