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Lions officials defend Gatland´s reign as O´Brien explains criticism

22 septembrie 2017 00:09

Senior officials John Spencer and John Feehan have defended the quality of coaching during the British and Irish Lions' tour of New Zealand following criticism from Sean O'Brien, who has moved to clarify his outspoken assessment.

Experienced Ireland international O'Brien was a key member of the team that earned a creditable 1-1 draw away to the world champion All Blacks.

But the Leinster flanker has since claimed the Lions were overworked by coach Warren Gatland and his staff in the lead-up to at least one Test, while also suggesting the travelling team had the talent at their disposal to win the series 3-0.

That critical assessment has come as a surprise to tour manager Spencer. 

"This is the first time either during or since the tour that I have heard a player say anything like that," he was quoted as saying by The Guardian. 

"I was surprised and disappointed when I saw what Sean had said because it was a tour when everyone stuck together and showed great character to come back against a side that has been at the top of the world rankings for a very long time.

"I thought the coaches did an incredibly good job and to me what Warren Gatland achieved in New Zealand on the back of the 2013 success in Australia makes him the best coach in the world." 

Spencer did confirm, though, that no action will be taken to censure O'Brien.

"I have no intention of taking the matter further," he said. 

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion but when you consider what happened the last time the Lions were in New Zealand, you can definitely say that the Lions are now in a very good place."

Lions chief executive Feehan echoed the sentiments of his colleague in defending Gatland's reign.   

"I said all along that I think we had the best coaching team available and I think they proved that in what we achieved in New Zealand," he was quoted as saying by Sky Sports. 

"To draw a series with the All Blacks, who had not lost a Test match at home for eight years was a remarkable result, and Warren and the coaches deserve huge credit for that.

"People will always have their views on what could have been done better but the fact is that, against all the odds and with limited preparation time, this squad became only the second Lions team in history to either win or draw a series in New Zealand in 13 attempts.

"That achievement cannot be underestimated."

O'Brien released a statement via Twitter on Thursday in which he stood by his remarks. 

"To be clear, my views on the Lions tour were honest and genuine and solely with the intention of building on what was a great tour," he wrote.

"Unfortunately, some people have focused on what I feel we could have done better instead of what we did well.

"I have nothing but respect for Warren and the whole coaching team... But do I believe we - the players and coaches - could have done better? Yes. Do I believe we could have won the series? Yes."

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