Leading the British and Irish Lions to a series win over South Africa would rank as Warren Gatland's finest achievement as a coach, says Bernard Jackman.
The Lions have come under fire after two turgid attacking displays against the Springboks, who were resounding 27-9 winners in last weekend's second Test, while Gatland and his coaching ticket have faced criticism for their selection policy.
Despite scoring a series win over Australia with the Lions in 2013 and a famous draw with New Zealand four years later, while also winning three Grand Slams while in charge of Wales, Jackman says guiding the tourists to victory on Saturday would be Gatland’s greatest feat.
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"He definitely has it in him. I’m just wondering has he relinquished some of his own principles," Jackman told the RTÉ Rugby Podcast.
"He has come off a very tough period in Super Rugby Aotearoa with the Chiefs, where they didn’t win a game in 2020. I’ve no inside knowledge but he seems to have relinquished some of the dominance he had in the past around selection.
"I’ve never seen Gatland show so much inconsistency in selection. Watching him in previous Lions tours, he made a late change in the second Test against New Zealand and went with an Owen Farrell-Johnny Sexton second playmaker, and that worked. But over the past ten years with Wales and the Lions, I’ve always seen where he was going.
"Despite a number of things falling in the Lions favour - no Tests at altitude, etc – and given how the second half went (last weekend), how the Lions looked like Ragball Rovers and just completely fell astray in the final 30 minutes. He’s a phenomenal coach regardless but it would be his finest moment."
Donal Lenihan worked alongside Gatland as the Kiwi cut his teeth in international coaching with Ireland between 1998 and 2001.
Although the Lions were soundly beaten in the second Test, Lenihan says Gatland will be reminding his players all week that they are on the cusp of creating history.
"He has always been calmness personified," said Lenihan. "He has learned over the years, made a couple of errors early on in his coaching career like all coaches did.
"He did learn to back himself so I understand fully where Bernard is coming from (regarding selection).
"In terms of the Lions squad selection and the team for the first Test, we’ve heard of this selection by consensus where all the coaches put in their teams and we see how many is common to all, and that’s the starting point. That is alien to what Gatland would have done in the past.
"As a consequence of that we have seen this inconsistency in the selection of the team. But the bottom line is it all comes down to 80 minutes. It’s not going to be flamboyant.
"A Lions series victory is so difficult to achieve; they’ve only had two Test series wins in South Africa since 1900. But it’s within touching distance.
"Going back to 2001 (Lenihan was tour manager when the Lions faced Australia), we were in a similar position. It was 1-1 and there are times during the week that you worry. Does it sink into the players how significant this moment is?
"They’ll never get this back again, never be in a position to create this again. It’s all or nothing.
"Gatland will create that mentality this week. It’s a question of whether they’re going to be good enough to deal with the physical power South Africa will bring."
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Follow South Africa v British and Irish Lions with our live blog on RTE.ie/sport and the RTE News app or listen to live commentary with Donal Lenihan and Michael Corcoran on RTÉ 2fm from 4.45pm on Saturday.