Howley: United mentors big bonus

Rob Howley believes the Lions coaches’ familiarity will give the tourists an edge throughout their South African adventure.

Ian McGeechan, Warren Gatland (forwards), Shaun Edwards (defence) and Howley (backs) have all worked together with Wasps, while the latter trio also forms the Wales’ brains trust. The final component of the Lions group is Leicester scrum guru Graham Rowntree, who was Howley’s room-mate on their successful tour 12 years ago.

Wasps claimed the English Premiership title last year under McGeechan, Howley and Edwards, while the Welsh swooped on a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2008 with Gatland and the latter pair in charge. 

The Bok mentors have been together for a year and have a record of nine wins from 13, but a notable achievement missing from their joint CV is last year’s Tri-Nations title. The Boks were also favourites in the build-up to the tournament.

McGeechan is revered the world over and Howley said he noticed the lift it gave the Lions when they met with the coaches last Monday.

‘It’s been fairly easy bonding as a coaching staff,’ Howley told keo.co.za. ‘Ian all knew us and he picked us from our knowledge of one another, which gave us clarity on our roles. The first time I worked as a coach was with Ian, I also have good relationships with Warren and Shaun, while I roomed with Graham the last time we were here, so we have a bond.

‘That means we start at a high point. If we didn’t know each other we would have spent the entire tour of six weeks getting to know everyone’s values, such as honest and integrity, which wouldn’t have been ideal.

‘When the boys arrived and saw one united coaching team, you could see the confidence it gave them. They’ve already bonded and that chemistry is there. That will be key when the players are in pressure situations out on the park.’

With the exception of the seven Leinster, Leicester and Northampton players who were involved in cup finals on the weekend, the majority of the squad has been together for a week. Howley emphasised how gearing the players up physically will be vital in the initial stages of the tour.

‘The first couple of weeks will all be about hard work. We have looked at our physicality and done lots of work on the conditioning of the players, getting them prepared for the rigours of the tour.

‘We have to hit the ground running and the players have been working in oxygen chambers back home to get acclimatised.’

Howley said the Lions won’t be under-estimating the unheralded Royal XV, compromising largely of Vodacom Cup players, in the tour opener on Saturday.

‘There is a chance for all those opposition teams to upset us and we’re not focusing on anyone else yet. We have done our homework on them and it’s really crucial from our perspective we further that team unity and get combinations going.’

By Grant Ball, in Johannesburg