Bryn Gatland isn’t torn.
Far from it.
He supports the Lions and wants the British and Irish side to do well on their 10-game tour to New Zealand and that includes beating the All Blacks in the three-test series.
What’s odd about this is that Gatland is a Kiwi. Huntly born and Hamilton bred he dreams, like all New Zealand rugby players, of being an All Black. He’ll start at first five for the Provincial Barbarians team in the opening match of the tour in Whangarei on Saturday, and is an outside chance to feature for the Blues against the Lions at Eden Park four days later (if there are more injuries).
But Gatland, as the surname suggests, is the son of Lions coach and former All Blacks hooker Warren Gatland. And, in this case, blood is thicker than black.
“I’m an All Blacks supporter normally but family comes first so I want the Lions to do well,” Bryn Gatland politely explains.
When asked what constitutes “do well”, he turns the question around. “What would you want if it was your father (coaching the Lions)?
“It’s not that I want the All Blacks to lose, it’s that I want Dad to do well. It will be amazing if the Lions can do well against the best side in the world. It will be a very proud moment for my family if Dad can achieve that goal.”
Bryn admits things will be “a bit different this week” when he plays against his Dad’s Lions, but he realises this game, and potentially the Blues match too, are big opportunities for him. Play well and opportunity knocks.
Just ask Justin Purdie. Who? Exactly. Purdie was plucked from club rugby obscurity to play for Wellington against the Lions in 2005 because coach Chris Boyd found himself without star loose forwards Jerry Collins and Rodney So’oialo, who were with the All Blacks.
“That was Justin Purdie’s one and only cap for Wellington,” Boyd says. Purdie made it count, picked up by Samoa for the 2007 World Cup and from there establishing a professional career in France.
Others will get that chance during the next six weeks when the Lions play all five New Zealand franchises and New Zealand Maori. “It’s the same this year,” Boyd, now coach of the Hurricanes, says. “Beauden Barrett won’t be available to us so Otere Black will start against the Lions. We only carry two tens so I’ll have to draft in another first five whose only game for the Hurricanes is likely to be against the Lions.”
Such dice are already falling Gatland’s way. The 22-year-old wasn’t part of the Blues regular squad but has been drafted in twice for injured players, and now has a chance to strut his stuff for the Babaas.
He’s been given a licence to thrill by coach Clayton McMillan who, as a hard working No8, moved to Japan after 113 games for Bay of Plenty knowing the 2005 Lions were on the horizon.
“I’ll tell them to enjoy the moment,” he says when asked what his message to his players will be before they run out in Whangarei. “I’ll tell them it’s an occasion that will throw up future stars and their challenge is to be one of those.”
He will also tell them to play without fear. “It’s a game with nothing riding on it for us, so we have to have a crack; to try things out of the box without fear of persecution later.
“We have to give the Lions a good old fashioned welcome to New Zealand, a bit of a tickle up, because it’s only going to get bigger, badder, faster and more organised for them after us.
“We’re going to keep things simple, have a crack, and stay true to the Barbarians style. We don’t want to play a game that’s comfortable for the Lions.
“We want to get the crowd excited and, within our camp, we feel we’re in with a runner’s chance. Provincial sides have beaten the Lions in the past.”
Victory, though, is unlikely. For Gatland, a good game against the Old Man’s team will be enough.