Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All eyes on Lions' choice

Whoever coaches next year's tour needs to get the most out of a tough schedule without breaking the troops, writes Gregor Paul. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Whoever coaches next year's tour needs to get the most out of a tough schedule without breaking the troops, writes Gregor Paul. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There's no team that builds hype quite like the Lions do. It's a year before they get here and already there are big questions about who they will bring and who will be at the helm.

June didn't provide any clear winners and losers on the coaching front. Well, Eddie Jones was the clear winner but he insists he won't be applying for the Lions coaching job because his commitments to England are total.

The Lions will invite coaching applications next month and whoever gets the job has to be available from September. Applicants already in an international post will have to step down during the November tests and Six Nations.

It's a massive commitment, but it shows the determination of the Lions to give themselves a fighting chance. They need to put the right 38 players on the plane to New Zealand and they need to have a playing and cultural philosophy worked out long before they arrive.

That has often proven to be where the Lions have either imploded or been galvanised.

On their last tour to Australia in 2013, they had a unity and common purpose that saw them stay tight in the series decider and blow away a fractured Wallabies team.

Jonathan Sexton of the Lions breaks clear to score during the International Test match between Australia in the last Lions tour, July 2013. Photo / David Rogers
Jonathan Sexton of the Lions breaks clear to score during the International Test match between Australia in the last Lions tour, July 2013. Photo / David Rogers

Warren Gatland was at the helm then and he's probably the favourite to land the job again. He didn't advance his claim this month, but nor did he damage it as much as was being suggested after Wales' second stringers were thrashed by the Chiefs.

His test team, the bulk of whom have been on the go for 54 weeks, played enough rugby in the first two tests to earn a bit of respect, before predictably succumbing in the third.

Coaching an international side for three consecutive tests against the All Blacks in June this year is a good way to strengthen Gatland's application that he should be the man to coach an international side to play three consecutive tests against the All Blacks in June next year.

What makes next year's tour different to previous Lions' excursions is the difficulty they face in the build-up games. They will encounter highly motivated Super Rugby teams in cauldron-like environments following New Zealand Rugby Union's decision to make about 70 per cent of all tickets available to the public.

Lions tickets

Highest and lowest prices for opening match in 2005 were $100 and $10 for a child. 2017 prices are the same.

Top price for the NZ Maori game has not increased from 2005.

2017 prices for all games in Dunedin, Auckland and Wellington have increased by $9 on the highest and lowest prices compared with 2005.

Test ticket ballot opens on September 5.

Test tickets from $149 to $449.

Pre-sale periods for non-test matches from October 3.

The three tests, given the higher pricing and greater corporate hospitality allocation, may seem like there are more people fretting about the prawn sandwiches than there are about the rugby, but the tour games, at least, have a good chance of being rugby occasions for rugby people.

The Lions will have to factor this into their coaching appointment -- whoever gets the job will have to battle-harden the troops through seven brutal fixtures without breaking them.

- NZ Herald

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