Friday, 16 June 2017

Lions: a whinge

News today that Warren Gatland is planning to call up five or six replacements to join the New Zealand tour as cover for the remaining midweek fixtures.

Frankly if I was one of the players being shipped in merely to sit on the bench in a midweek game I'd be tempted to tell Gatland to shove it, but I think what this news does demonstrate is just how impossible a Lions tour is in its present format.

Attempting to combine players from 4 nations to form a squad to tour one of the southern hemisphere’s giants is very much a Corinthian concept forged in the days of amateur rugby and, while the Lions ideal still captures the imagination of rugby fans worldwide, it is becoming increasingly obvious that in its current guise the Lions is a notion that no longer works within the harsh reality of the professional rugby calendar.

Touring New Zealand is difficult enough. To take on such a brutal and relentless schedule having had next to no preparation is, however, just insane. And the results and performances so far – against teams one might expect any of the individual national teams to beat – would appear to bear this out.

Who knows, the Lions may surprise us all and be ultra-competitive against the All Blacks. They may even win a Test. What I do expect, however, is for a stream of battered players returning to Blighty nursing a variety of injuries – with player welfare once more taking a back seat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for one minute advocating scrapping the Lions, but it is clear to me that the whole idea needs a rethink. It’s a fantastic brand and a major money-spinner within the international rugby calendar, but if it is to survive long term the team has to be given time to prepare properly and future touring schedules need to be designed with the players' interests at front of mind.

There, whinge over. Back to the rugby…

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