British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland fired the first verbal salvo ahead of his team’s tour to Australia next year, claiming the Wallabies are the easiest to knock over of their Southern Hemisphere rivals.
Gatland certainly handed Wallaby coach Robbie Deans a motivational Christmas gift, when he declared 2013 presents the Lions with their best chance of of ending a 16-year wait for a series win.
“It’s maybe the easiest [opponent] from a Lions perspective,” said Gatland, when asked to compare Australia to fellow Southern Hemisphere powers New Zealand and South Africa.
“In the past there are teams that have had some success against the Australian sides.”
Gatland’s comments, which are sure to fire up the Australians even six months out from the three-Test series, are backed up by the rankings with Australia the lowest of the three teams that host the four-yearly Lions tours at No.3.
Australia were thrashed 33-6 by France last month, and only scraped past England, Italy and Wales in their other year-end Tests.
“Going to one of the top-three teams in the world, playing away from home and being successful is incredibly challenging,” Gatland said.
“But if you’d said to me, out of the three Southern Hemisphere teams, pick your choice of where you’d like to go, I would’ve said Australia, probably.”
Gatland is the second straight Lions coach from New Zealand to tour Australia, after Graham Henry in 2001.
The Lions lost that series 1-2 and were beaten by New Zealand (3-0) in 2005 and South Africa (2-1) in 2009, leading some to question the value of the touring institution that began in 1888.
“The Lions, as a brand, to be successful it’s got to win some tours,” Gatland said.
And Gatland is wary of the Wallabies’ well proven ability to bounce back from defeat with a winning performance.
“We’ve got to be incredibly aware if we happen to win the first Test. We’ll know what’s coming in the second Test.
“They will do whatever it takes to get a result.”