10 Jul

Three-Nil, But It Was A Blast!
by Paul Waite
10 Jul 2005

Yep, we cleaned the Lions up in a 3-0 white-wash (or Blackwash as some are calling it) but this Lions Tour was every bit as good as we’d hoped it would be.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the magic of The Lions isn’t simply in the bald test stats at the end, it’s about the coming together of four nations and a coaching staff, and seeing how they can be welded together to give something very special. It doesn’t happen often (some previous tours have been far worse than this), but when it does, it’s just amazing to behold. It’s also about the touring of the provinces, the hospital and school visits, the sea of red flowing across the land in campervans, and the many meetings in pubs and clubs pre- and post-match between New Zealanders and these most wonderful of rugby fans.

The idea that The Lions should be thrown on the scrapheap simply because of the 3-0 this time is a one-dimensional ‘bean-counter’ view of the world, and should be scorned by anyone with the slightest appreciation of, or regard for, rugby’s traditions.

However it is true that this particular tour has been a piss-poor example of how it should be done, and in fact it should probably be written up into a How To Fuck A Lions Tour Up manual for future reference. Clive Woodward was effectively handed the legendary Blank Cheque on the basis of his exploits in guiding England to winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Success is a very bankable commodity we’re told. So it ended up with too many players, too many ‘consultants’, separate rooms for everyone, and every little detail all nailed down apart from the one thing that can’t be bought with money – the heart of a test team with a belief in itself.

But the magic of it is, the next time the Lions assemble it will be with a different set of players and it will be under a different leadership. I’m confident that sense will prevail, and a smaller squad of players plus ‘ancilliary staff’ will tour. A couple of pre-tour trials and a warm-up game should then suffice to get them started with the basic ‘test side’ / ‘midweek side’ split, and from there they should be able to build their combinations.

Looking back on it all as it has unfolded, there were other issues that this Lions team had to contend with. Successful teams always have one or two key players that are the foundation, one of whom is inevitably the captain. In New Zealand rugby one thinks of Wilson Whinneray, Colin Meads, Ian Kirkpatrick, Buck Shelford, Sean Fitzpatrick. In 2003 England had Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio. Looking at this present Lions team, the loss of Dallaglio at the outset was the cruelest of blows, since he really stood alone as their one charismatic leader. Nobody else could come near to filling the role, not even the talented Brian O’Driscoll, and this was painfully apparent in all of the test matches. Hopefully future Lions teams will be able to call on players of this ilk.

Sir Clive is correct in one statement, or at least partially correct. He was at pains to lecture us, at the end of the third test, to be circumspect in drawing conclusions about the gulf between Southern and Northern Hemisphere rugby on this series. In so doing, he was obviously busy, as usual, in feeding his own hobby-horse, but there is quite obviously the ring of truth in it.

The Lions are a special entity, in that they differ from a single nation touring team, made up from players who, for the most part, are familiar with one another. What with other Woordward-induced problems with selection policy, and their own injury issues, the Lions were not representative of a full strength England for example.

New Zealanders are well aware of how to judge this series thankyou very much Clive. The All Blacks have just played their first three tests of the year, and this has been a very useful warm-up. We aren’t anywhere near to full throttle yet, and have a Tri-Nations to navigate, before we will be nice and honed for our Grand Slam tour up North.

So, we’ll see what happens when we journey to same Four Nations who made up the Lions, and take them on in their own back yards.

Now _that_ will be a good pointer for the gap, if any, between Northern and Southern hemisphere rugby.

And another thing, whilst we’re on Clive’s Expressions of Wisdom. He was keen to remind us that we haven’t won a Rugby World Cup since 1987 (thanks Clive, it’s so long ago we’d forgotten about that), and that the World Cup was the true measure of how good a team is.

Wrong.

In a Rugby World Cup ANY side is vulnerable to a one-off miracle performance (eg. France vs. New Zealand, 1999 semi-final) against a team they only meet that one time, whereas in a test series the winner would not necessarily turn out to be the stronger in the long run.

The only true measure of dominance between two rugby teams is over a test series of at least three tests.

World Cups are won by an ad-hoc combination of rugby strength, and good fortune. They necessarily sacrifice rugby credibility (in terms of the result) for entertainment value.

But enough of that. Instead let’s reflect on what was a tremendously successful Lions Tour, and look forward to having them back down this way again in 10-12 years!

To all you Lions Fans out there – you were absolutely fantastic. Have a safe journey home, and we’ll see you at the end of the year for the Grand Slam!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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