Talk to international rugby union players about what makes a strong team and one word will come up time and again. Trust. It’s what you need more than anything else when your backs are against the wall, when the pressure is on and when the opposition are camped on your tryline.
Talk to Warren Gatland, head coach of the 2017 British & Irish Lions, about the backroom staff – the team behind the team – he will lead to New Zealand this summer, and that same word is there again. “Having people who have worked together, understand each other, trust each other, will be essential,” says Gatland.
Three people in particular to whom he is referring are the heads of “departments” whose roles are crucial for a successful Lions team: Paul Stridgeon, the head of strength and conditioning; Eanna Falvey, head of medical; and Rhodri Bown, the head analyst. Gatland has worked with them all before, including on Lions tours.
“We’re very lucky in terms of having an Englishman, a Welshman and an Irishman in the three departments ... so we’re trying to cover all bases,” he says. He is also trying to ensure muchneeded continuity.
“We felt that there were a lot of positives from things we’ve done on the last couple of tours,” says Gatland, who was an assistant coach under Sir Ian McGeechan in 2009 and then head coach for the victorious tour to Australia in 2013. “I don’t think in a Lions environment you’ve got time to reinvent the wheel. You can put a couple of spokes in it, maybe. That’s about it.”
Gatland has learnt from experience the challenge of bringing players from four countries together in a short space of time. But the staff need to be integrated quickly too.
“That’s the challenge for us: how quickly we can bring it all together,” he says. “Players will be working with strength and conditioning staff they haven’t worked with before, medical staff too. How you build up that rapport and that trust – it’s a really fine balance.”
One other member of the backroom staff will be key, in Gatland’s opinion, in creating the “one team” mentality that could see The Lions to victory in New Zealand. Paddy O’Reilly, or Rala, as the Ireland team have known him for the past 20 years, has been the kit man, or baggage master, on the past two Lions tours. And Gatland prizes him as much as anyone.
“He’s kind of a legend,” the head coach explains. “Everything will be laid out perfectly for the players, he will have their music going, little sweets and treats, and the performance drinks and bags, everything. It doesn’t matter what you’ve forgotten, he’ll have it.”
Gatland knows what it takes to knit this team of players, coaches, analysts, medics, conditioning staff, press officers, lawyers, logistics experts, commercial staff and baggage masters together. If he can build that trust quickly, then New Zealand beware.
The team behind the team
QBE is a principal partner of The British & Irish Lions’ 2017 tour to New Zealand, officially designated as supporting the Lions’ management and backroom staff, or the ‘team behind the team’.
QBE is a global insurer and reinsurer with operations in all the key insurance markets. QBE believes that the challenges faced and rewards achieved from the Lions one-team approach, builds close and enduring relationships that closely mirrors its own business.
For more information go to QBEeurope.com