By Mick Cleary of UK Telegraph
A Lions tour is not about the coaches. It is about the players. Empowering them. Enthusing them. Loving, beasting, nurturing, caring, sharing and being at one with them. And that is why Crusaders coach Scott Robertson would be a perfect fit for the 2021 (fingers crossed ) British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
Oh, yes, wait a minute – Roberston is a Kiwi. There was a moment when I initially reached for the narrow-minded, insular, the-Lions-are-ours-so-bugger-off-Kiwis line of thinking, determined to ring-fence one of our most precious institutions and protect it from the marauding hands of yet another New Zealander who comes to the northern hemisphere in order to enhance his CV application for the All Black head-coaching job. But then reality dawned.
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If we believe that the Lions really do represent something unique then we should explore all the parameters of that philosophy. The Lions is not a parochial experience. It is not about being English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh. It is the very antithesis of that. It is about laying aside all the usual tribal affiliations. Barry John was not a Wales fly-half in New Zealand in 1971. Nor Martin Johnson an English lock in South Africa in 1997. They were Lions, for the duration of those tours and onwards into the record books, forever bound by the exploits of those trips.
Lions tours run their course and then take their place in history. They do not exist after the final whistle of the last Test of a series. There is no carry-forward, no development aspect. They are of their own moment in time. Warren Gatland has no interest in what might happen in the months and years that follow next summer's trip to South Africa, just as he didn't when taking the reins in Australia in 2013 or New Zealand four years later. These were not building blocks towards anything. The Wallabies were beaten and the All Blacks denied. That was it. End of.
Graham Henry didn't get to grips with the ethos of the Lions when he was head coach in Australia in 2001. The World Cup-winning All Black coach (then Wales coach) admitted so himself a few years later. Henry came to the job with preconceived ideas, seeing it as an extension of coaching a national side. It isn't.
There is no time to coach the players. That essential truth is more relevant today than ever. As we have said many times, the Lions have been betrayed by the sport's governors in being crammed into a five-week slot. The players will barely have had time to check each other's name badge before they are pitched into action.
They need sensitive hands on the tiller. Not soft, gentle, happy-clappy hands necessarily but ones that know all about empathy. Robertson has proved himself a master of getting the best from a bunch of players. Four Super Rugby titles in New Zealand in four years is a decent reckoning by any standards. There is a sense of fun about the bloke. Robertson is an ace break-dancer as much as he is a tactical and technical supremo. People want to play for him.
The players will be on their knees by the time the tour starts. They will need an instant pick-me-up. Roberston is just the man to have on board.