Numbers don't add up for another Welsh Lions squad

Numbers don't add up for another Welsh Lions squad
By Reuters

20/03/2017 at 00:59

By Shay Waterworth

LONDON, March 19 (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland's selection of 10 Welshman to start the decisive test against Australia in 2013 was vindicated with a thumping victory but the statistics suggest a different approach will be needed in New Zealand.

Wales won the Six Nations in 2013 and the grand slam the year before, fully justifying their dominance of a Lions squad that subsequently triumphed on tour with a 2-1 series victory clinched with that success in Sydney.

Yet when Gatland, who is on secondment with the Lions from Wales, names his squad for the New Zealand tour on April 19, he might be tempted to eschew his former charges and go in a different direction.

Welsh players made up 53 percent of the starting lineups in all three test matches against Australia four years ago, but since then in the red of their country they have recorded just two wins from 14 matches against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

In that time, England (14 matches) and Ireland (10 matches) have earned 50 percent success rates against the southern hemisphere's big three.

Among the Lions nations, only Scotland have a worse record against those three Southern hemisphere sides than Wales, having failed to record a single test win since a rainy 9-6 scrap against Australia in 2012.

The recent history of Lions tours also shows that success relies on squad selection reflecting the Six Nations form book.

The number of Welsh squad members has increased on every Lions tour since 1997. This has been justified by the fact that they won Six Nations titles in tour years 2005 and 2013, and claimed a grand slam in 2008 -- the year before the 2009 trip to South Africa.

Gatland will not need reminding that Wales have failed to win the Six Nations since the triumphant Lions tour in 2013.

In 1996 England won the Five Nations and subsequently earned 55 percent of Lions squad places for the 1997 Tour, which they went on to win in South Africa.

FORM BOOK

In 2000 and 2001 England won two Six Nations titles and earned 50 percent of the Lions squad for the 2001 tour to Australia, which they narrowly lost.

This trend continued in 2009 when Ireland won the grand slam and then made up 34 percent of the squad to tour South Africa.

With Wales having won the grand slam in 2008, they earned an equal representation, which resulted in a competitive but narrow series defeat.

When the form book is thrown out the window, however, things have not gone so well.

For the 2005 tour to New Zealand, former England head coach Clive Woodward allocated 45 percent of his squad positions to English players despite them finishing fourth in the 2005 Six Nations.

Wales, who won the grand slam that year, made up only 24 percent of the squad and the Lions were unsurprisingly hammered 3-0 by the All Blacks.

Following this trend, it seems obvious that England, current Six Nations champions and grand slam winners in 2016, should make up the majority of the Lions squad if the tourists are to be competitive in New Zealand.

Wales, however, could have no complaints if they were far less represented after they endured a poor tournament and finished second bottom above Italy.

Wales's players might point to their famous win against England in the 2015 World Cup, but since that match they have lost 59 percent of all international fixtures.

Within the same time frame Scotland have won 58 percent of their tests, Ireland have won 57 percent while England have lost twice in 18 months.

New Zealand native Gatland will know better than most the challenge awaiting the Lions when they take on the current world champions. Should he chose to ignore the numbers, that task could get even harder. (Editing by Toby Davis)

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