Gatland’s not done venting about the Springboks

Warren Gatland has not held back in his criticism of the South African tactics during the British and Irish Lions series in 2021, reflecting bitterly on what he sees as a damaging approach to the sport.

Gatland, who has been at the helm of the Lions for the 2013, 2017, and 2021 tours, did not shy away from airing his grievances, particularly regarding the controversial behaviour of the Springboks and their director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus.

Gatland’s Bitter Reflections on South Africa’s Tactics

In an interview on The Rugby Pod, Gatland shared his dissatisfaction with the 2021 tour, pointing to off-field antics that he believes tarnished the series.

“That was probably the first time I experienced what happened in South Africa. It was almost a win at all costs, the ends justifying the means,” he lamented.

Erasmus’s public criticism of referee Nic Berry, which came in the form of an hour-long video after the first Test, was a significant point of contention for Gatland. He felt such actions undermined the essence of the sport.

“It didn’t feel like it was about rugby; it was about winning being the most important thing. Things off the field were trying to upset players or the team, and it was deemed acceptable,” Gatland said.

Covid Complications and Discontent

The tour, which took place during the height of the Covid pandemic, was fraught with difficulties. Gatland believed it should have been postponed, a sentiment he strongly expressed.

“It was different. Probably for me, I think the tour should have been postponed,” he asserted. He dismissed the notion that postponing the tour would have affected World Cup preparations, stating, “For me, it’s about the fans, which is what makes it special.”

Protecting the Lions’ Future

Despite his grievances, Gatland remains passionate about the Lions’ future, advocating for the preservation of its significance in rugby.

“It’s an unbelievable concept, and we should do everything we can to protect the Lions going forward,” he emphasised.

Gatland is hopeful for the upcoming 2025 tour in Australia and plans to attend as a fan.

“I really hope that Australia next year will be brilliant. We are touring Japan with Wales, so I hope to get down there for the third Test. I look forward to watching it as a fan again,” he shared.

Gatland on the Vital Role of Fans

Gatland believes that the spirit and enthusiasm of Home Nations supporters are crucial to the Lions’ tours. “I have this romantic view of the Lions that it’s a celebration of the game,” he mused.

He highlighted how the presence of a significant number of Lions fans creates a unique atmosphere similar to the Six Nations.

“It’s a chance for the southern hemisphere to experience what we often experience in the Six Nations games, where 40% of the crowd can be Lions supporters. That’s what creates that atmosphere,” he explained.

Creating a Unique Experience

For Gatland, the fan experience is paramount, often more so than the game itself. “If you go and watch an All Blacks or Australian game, 95% of the fans are local supporters. They get to experience what happens during the Six Nations. That is almost more important than the game and the rugby in terms of that experience,” he concluded.

Warren Gatland’s candid reflections underscore his lingering bitterness over the 2021 Lions tour and highlight his concerns about the future of the series.

As rugby looks forward to future tours, ensuring the Lions’ legacy and spirit remains unblemished is crucial for the sport’s heritage.