Guest blog - Gatlandball - The brains behind the brawn by Jon Melloy

Guest blog - Gatlandball - The brains behind the brawn by Jon Melloy

The last time the Lions won a test series in New Zealand was back in 1971 in the golden days of the amateur era when Willie John Macbride was in his pomp. Back then the structure of the tour was completely different, with the squad playing a mammoth 29 games over a lengthy 3 month period. Overseeing this odyssey were just two men, the manager Doug Smith, and the team coach Carwyn James.


46 years later and the tour is so different that parts would almost be unrecognisable were it not for the classic red jerseys. The much derided 'suicidal’ schedule pales in comparison to the amateur itinerary, and the squads and coaching team have swollen to massive sizes. Where the Lions previously had two men in charge they now have masses of coaches and background staff supporting Head Coach Warren Gatland and his squad.


One role in particular that would have been unheard of back in the day is that of Head Analyst, occupied by Rhodri Bown. Bown will be no stranger to the players and setup, having been a performance analyst for the WRU since 2004, and a Lions veteran with two previous tours under his belt. Bown heads up a team of three analysts on the tour, who hope that their tactical insight could prove to be one of the many small factors which add up to help the Lions topple the undisputed number one team in the world.


In an interview with Brian Moore, Bown gave some insight into his role on the tour: “We’re working with the coaches and players on the tactical side of things going into matches. Players have a broad spectrum of needs going into a game and we tailor our approach to each player.” One thing that Warren Gatland has warned against is information overload and to combat this Bown described how he simply “tries to share nuggets of information” with the players.


One area that Bown said this analysis was critical was around the set piece, in particular scrums. Bown's team have poured over hours of footage of opposition scrummaging in advance of the tour, in order to provide the players with small hints and tips on how to get the better of their opposite number.


This analytical approach to sport, which was made famous by the Hollywood film Moneyball, has often attracted criticism from pundits. Bown appears to be pragmatic in his view towards analysis, and the difficulties of implementing its findings successfully, which is likely one of the reasons he has been so successful.