One of Warren Gatland’s Lions staff members had the shock of their life when old tweets criticising the Lions coach were dredged up during a quiz night on the tour of South Africa.
The former Wales coach joked that “whoever made that tweet is on the effing plane tomorrow” during a quiz organised by ex-Wales hooker and Lions strength & conditioning coach Huw Bennett.
Speaking after his side took a 1-0 lead in the series with a 22-17 victory in Cape Town, Gatland told the story when asked about how the players and staff have coped in a tour quite unlike any other given all the issues presented by Covid-19.
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“The players have been unbelievable, the staff as well,” said Gatland.
“We had a quiz night last Thursday that Huw Bennett had put together which was great fun, taking the Mickey out of a lot of the staff members.
“One of the staff members had tweeted some stuff about me about eight or nine years ago which wasn’t too complimentary and he was mortified when it came up as one of the quiz questions.
“I knew it was coming, it didn’t bother me, I just laughed and got up and said, “whoever made that tweet is on the effing plane tomorrow so pack your bag!”
“He was mortified for the next hour.”
Gatland also revealed how crucial that strong bond in the squad was during the tight and cagey first Test in Cape Town, with the wider squad making their voices heard from up in the stands.
“We’ve bonded incredibly well, the players have just been amazing but the vocal stuff coming from the non-23 in the stands made a big difference.
“Before the game I said to the 23, it’s a great honour, you’re playing for yourselves and your family but also the whole squad. You’ve got a real responsibility to do it for everyone.”
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The Lions coach also touched upon the issue of South African TMO Marius Jonker, whose appointment last week was known to have frustrated the tourists.
In the end, Jonker was heavily involved in a number of contentious calls, including a disallowed try for Willie le Roux and a possible card for Hamish Watson.
However, despite the South African media believing the hosts were hard done by when it came to the decisions, Gatland doesn’t think that was the case – again registering his surprise that World Rugby didn’t have a Plan B in place were their original choice of TMO, New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill, unavailable.
“I know how tough it is,” said Gatland. “We have an angle that shows on the Faf de Klerk try that it has clearly touched Du Toit’s hand.
“If that had been picked up, it would have been a knock-on.
“The other ones are a couple of tight margins. We highlighted during the week about a neutral TMO and I think that needed to be highlighted.
“We wanted to make sure all of those decisions and the process was really transparent – and I think it was. But a couple of tight calls, definitely.”
“The thing is, we found out on Wednesday that the TMO was going to be changed – it was going to be Marius Jonker.
“We’d had an email from World Rugby on July 15 confirming the referees but not confirming the TMOs. They’ve known since then, or well before then, that Brendon Pickerill wasn’t going to be flying to be the TMO.
“We were a little bit surprised that they didn’t have any contingency plans in place.
“We have had so many contingency plans for lots of things.
“South Africa were concerned that we didn’t have enough front-row cover if we picked up an injury, so that if we suffered an injury in training we might have to go down to uncontested scrums. That’s why we brought out Ronan Kelleher – to avoid that scenario happening.
“So we were a little bit surprised that they hadn’t made plans for if the referees weren’t able to travel or picked up COVID and who were going to be the replacements.”