Photo credit: Youtube.
The British and Irish Lions rugby tour to New Zealand – one of the sport's premier events – may be eight more months away, but the word of words is already building.
Warren Gatland, the Kiwi-born Lions coach, told English media that he was "embarrassed" to be a New Zealander after the way Australia was treated before, and after, their recent test against the All Blacks in Auckland.
Leading up to the game, which the All Blacks won handily 37-10, the New Zealand Herald published a cartoon picture of Wallabies coach Michael Cheika dressed as a clown, with the headline 'Send In The Clowns.'
In the post-match press conference, Cheika, and Australian captain Stephen Moore, described the cartoon as disrespectful – adding that he was unsure if the All Blacks even respected the Wallabies, themselves.
As a Waikato prop, Warren Gatland scored a try against the touring British and Irish Lions team in 1993. Source: Youtube.
Gatland, who also coaches Wales, said he was also disappointed to hear the Eden Park crowd booing Wallabies back Quade Cooper; a long-time subject of derision for Kiwi rugby fans.
"I was at Eden Park … and, as a Kiwi, I was embarrassed," Gatland told English media.
"There was still a large portion of the crowd booing Quade Cooper. Get over it. Then there was the clown stuff in the Herald.
"One of the things I was proud of as a Kiwi was showing humility. The All Blacks try to do that, but there's a proportion of New Zealanders that have a little bit of arrogance and not humility.
"As a Kiwi, I was sitting in the stands watching the game and I was a little bit embarrassed."
Like a red rag to a bull, the Herald gave the Lions coach his own clown treatment on their back page the following day, yesterday.
Alongside the cartoon, controversial Herald columnist Chris Rattue admitted he liked the fact Gatland was getting stuck in.
"That Wales' Kiwi coach is willing to have a go at the New Zealand crowds and media is great, even if it is to satisfy his British media mates," Rattue wrote.
However, they don't seem happy either. The Telegraph, in England, has described Gatland's Lions tenure as "already mired in absurdity" and criticized the Kiwi as taking sides with Chieka.
"Great. Kick the monster awake and give it nine months to catch you," they wrote.
The British and Irish Lions haven't won a test series in New Zealand since 1971. As for the All Blacks, they have now won 18 straight tests – a record for a tier one rugby nation – and have seen critics describe Steve Hansen's current bunch as one of the greatest rugby teams ever assembled.
Expect plenty more hyperbole – and clown cartoons – in the next eight months.