FORMER ENGLAND OUTHALF Stuart Barnes believes the Lions management missed two opportunities to get new Ireland coach Joe Schmidt involved on the upcoming tour to Australia.
Barnes feels a decision to appoint Schmidt’s fellow Kiwi, Warren Gatland [last September] was made too far in advance of this summer’s tour. Schmidt, said the outhalf turned Sky Sports pundit, would have brought an attacking dimension to the British and Irish Lions’ game that the Wallabies would have struggled with.
Barnes, who was in Dublin today to promote Sky Sports’ coverage of the Heineken and Amlin Cup finals, told TheScore.ie that, having overlooked Schmidt in favour of Gatland, Lions chiefs should have selected the New Zealander as backs coach. Wales’ caretaker coach Rob Howley, who led his countrymen to Six Nations success this year, has been tasked with getting the Lions backline into attacking shape Down Under. Barnes commented:
When I’m taking about Howley… I’m not knocking him. I think that Joe Schmidt is the most outstanding coach I’ve seen, in this hemisphere, in a long, long time. Leinster are a top team that play some beautiful, progressive rugby. Joe is the proof that you can play good rugby and win. It’s bullshit that you just have to bash people and bash people. Leinster played and passed their way past the best teams in European rugby in modern times.
“Joe had Clermont doing that too. Why was Brock James there? It’s not by accident. The forwards could pass too and a lot of it went through Aurelien Rougerie.”
Barnes added, “I said at the start of the season that he should have been the head coach. It’s nothing against Gatland but [naming his coach] was a very early call. Maybe with a bit of hindsight now, too, but I would stand by that call.”
Paul Wallace, Stuart Barnes and Scott Quinnell will be off to Australia for Sky Sport’s Lions coverage. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Barnes believes that Leinster, a team he considers only second to Clermont in European rugby at present, should remain competitive despite the huge blows of losing Schmidt, Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa.
“It’s been a bit hard for them this year; with Sexton out we saw what happened to them,” he said.
[Recently signed outhalf] Jimmy Gopperth’s a good player but he’s no Jonny Sexton. Matt O’Connor is a good coach, but he’s not Joe Schmidt. They’ll be competitive because Leinster have grown this belief in Europe over the past five or six years. If they win the Amlin, the season will have been no disgrace. They went down to the best team in Europe with a few players missing.”
Barnes told TheScore.ie, “A lot of people, especially in England, could see them trying a new style and they thought they were going to fall away; that it wasn’t going to last. Maybe it’s because I’m from Bath, and the West Country. We want to see great players but we also want to see a winning culture.
“Leinster have that winning culture and so have Munster. That’s why Munster were in the semi-finals this year. It’s not about 1 to 15, personnel, it’s about something deeper. You’d like to think that the roots have laid down deep, as deep as they have with Munster.”
*Stuart Barnes was at the Aviva Stadium today ahead of The Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, which will be live on Sky Sports HD and available on Sky Go, with the Heineken Cup final also in 3D.