Jason O’Halloran’s decision not to accept an invitation to join the British and Irish Lions coaching team appears to have head coach Warren Gatland in a quandary.
The Scotland attack coach is the latest after Eddie Jones, Joe Schmidt and Gregor Townsend to turn the opportunity to join Gatland’s band for the tour to New Zealand next summer.
Gatland has now virtually no options in his stated wish to have Scottish representation on the Lions coaching side. In the “ideal scenario”, he told BBC Wales, he’d want someone from the Scottish system “to push for some of their players” in cases of “50/50 decisions” in selection.
It’s a curious statement; is Gatland seriously suggesting that on recent tours like the one he led to Australia three years ago, the paucity of Scots in the Lions squad and teams was down to no-one batting for them in selection meetings?
Surely those tough selection decisions, and knowing all about the players available to him and their relative strengths and weaknesses, are his perogative as head coach alone, indeed a significant part of the role.
Does Gatland now feel guilty for picking just three Scots – Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Richie Gray – for the last tour? Or is he trying to divest responsibility for not picking players from Scotland?
Surely most involved in the Scottish rugby system and their fans would want the Lions head coach to pick on merit rather than on quota. If he doesn’t think Scots are up to the job of touring with the Lions, then don’t pick them and say exactly why.
O’Halloran’s invitation and performance as attack coach in less than a year for Scotland have underlined his growing reputation, with the Scots scoring more tries presently than at any time since 2000.
The Kiwi’s reasons for turning it down are similar to Townsend’s, who quite properly felt obliged to take Scotland on tour to Australia and Fiji next summer having been offered and taken the national head coach’s job.
When Townsend goes to Murrayfield, O’Halloran moves to Scotstoun to become assistant to the incoming Dave Rennie, and clearly feels his commitments lie there.
One also suspects that neither Townsend nor O’Halloran considered that an “assistant to the assistant” post – Wales’ Rob Howley will be senior attack coach with the Lions – was worth that much to add to their experience or their cvs.