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Shane Williams column: Get Stephen Jones on board when Lions confirm Warren Gatland call

Stephen JonesWhen it comes to leading the British & Irish Lions, it’s all about experience and that’s why Warren Gatland is the right man for the job.

There seems little point even having a flutter on who will be named on Wednesday as head coach for the 2017 Lions tour. By all accounts, Gatland has the job.

He will be the first coach to lead successive Lions tours and I can completely understand why. If one person knows exactly what the tourists will face next summer, it’s him. And no-one should underestimate just how important that is.

The Lions job is unlike any other in rugby, perhaps in any sport, and you need to know exactly what you’re doing. It is a unique concept, you’re under so much pressure and there is everything at stake. It’s a tour when reputations are made – and ruined.

Warren went to South Africa under Sir Ian McGeechan in 2009 and should have won the series. He then led the tour to Australia in 2013 and did win it. Now he looks likely to face the hardest one of them all, against the world champions in New Zealand.

It’s not just about getting it right on the pitch, it’s getting the fit right off it as well. I was on both those tours with Warren, even if only for a week in Australia, and he is fantastic at blending a squad. After all, that is the biggest challenge for the Lions.

In 2009 he created a real feelgood culture in the entire group.

Unlike the previous tour, players shared rooms, were allowed to have a beer and enjoy the fantastic country they were in. The deal was that if you wanted to play hard at night, then you had to make sure you manned-up the next morning and worked hard.

Warren enjoyed mixing with players and was also very good at taking the pressure off them and onto himself with the odd comment in the media, and it worked.

Behind the scenes, he was also not afraid to lean on the players’ knowledge and experience. It’s not a dictatorship under Warren where players are simply told what to do.

On a Lions tour you have some of the most decorated players in world rugby and Warren wasn’t too big for his boots to speak with Paul O’Connell or Brian O’Driscoll and take on board their thoughts and ideas.

That’s why next year the likes of Alun-Wyn Jones, Jamie Roberts and Sam Warburton will be so important. Players who have been there and know what it takes to win.

I would imagine there are going to be a lot of familiar faces from Australia on the next tour and even the Irish and English players will have a good idea what Gatland is all about.

Being a Kiwi also gives Gatland a unique perspective on this coming tour and a head-start on any other contender on what to expect in New Zealand.

He knows the culture there, the mind-set and the reception the Lions are going to get from everyone, both on and off the pitch. That can only help the players and provide a safe pair of hands as far as the Lions hierarchy are concerned.

So what happens to Wales when/if Gatland gets the job. From my understanding, Warren is likely to remain with Wales through the autumn internationals and then hand over the national reins once more to Rob Howley.

If Wales bring in anyone else it would be like going back to the drawing board with new plans and ideas.

After so many years working together, there is almost a telepathy between Gatland and Howley, who did a great job to win the Six Nations in 2013, so there is no reason to disturb that.

However what I would like to see is a new, young coach brought into the set-up to start learning the ropes. For me, it would be the perfect time to get someone like Stephen Jones, left, to work alongside Howley, Shaun Edwards, Neil Jenkins and Robin McBryde and keep the production line of international coaches going.

Jones is a Wales coach in the making so let’s get him involved as soon as possible.

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