AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Warren Gatland is mystified why some perceive his playing ethos to be a direct, physical approach with few frills and thrills. Instead, he has charged his players with showcasing an ‘X-factor’ against the Blues on Wednesday.
The origins of ‘Warrenball’, the term coined by ex-England coach Brian Smith to describe Gatland’s playing philosophy, confuses Gatland. He was asked in Monday’s press conference here in Auckland about whether his teams only play in a specific manner, and responded with an open-ended question.
“I kind of look and go: ‘Was is it when we were successful at Wasps or when I was coaching Waikato in the Air New Zealand Cup?’ I don’t know, when did a certain style change? If you can tell me the answer to that I will answer the question when the time frame is appropriate — then I can potentially give you an answer.
“Look, a few years ago Brian Smith coined a phrase ‘Warrenball’ and I don’t know whether that was because he was jealous of how much success we had. We had a group of players who came through Wales at the time who ended up being pretty big, physical players.
“The modern game of rugby is about getting across the gain line, trying to get front-foot ball and playing to space if that is possible. If you can get me when things started to change, I don’t know.”
Before the Lions landed in New Zealand, Eddie Jones said they would struggle to win if they played a one-dimensional style of rugby. “They are looking to attack like Wales, with big gain-line runners, with not much ball movement. You’ll struggle to beat the All Blacks like that,” Jones said, but Gatland’s message to the team is different.
“In a way it is an opportunity for people to want to be critical,” Gatland said. “We experienced that four years ago when people decided to be critical and a lot of people got caught with their pants down afterwards, didn’t they.
“We know we didn’t play so well on Saturday and it gives us an opportunity to go out and against the Blues and be positive. The message to the players is that we want to play positive rugby, we want to be able to move the ball and shift it and create chances.
“To match the All Blacks you have got to display a bit of X-factor and if that X-factor means an offload or something that is a little bit outside the box, the players are being encouraged to do that because that is what we are going to need to beat them; and express themselves, back their skills and back their ability and we don’t want to be prescribed and we don’t want to play by numbers.
“These players are being encouraged to develop their level of skills and to go out there and to do that. Hopefully, we can show that on Wednesday and the players can do that and perform to what they are being encouraged by the coaches to do.”