Monday, June 27, 2005

Lions in Even Bigger Trouble Than It Appears

Anyone with any spare in cash in an online betting account could do worse than plunge the lot on an All-Black whitewash, only the third ever in the history of Lions tours to New Zealand. You'll only get 2/7 with Paddy Power, but a price is never too low on a winning bet.

The scutching the Lions received at the hands of the All-Blacks on Saturday wasn't that surprising. You can't expect to pick a side for a 2005 tour on 2003 form, as remarked earlier in this space, and then expect to go out and win. It's also highly ironic that, after bringing the biggest touring squad ever, Sir Clive could only offer a clapped out Will Greenwood, another man past his sell-by date, when Brian O'Driscoll was whacked in the second minute. Not much planning for the rainy day there.

But there is another problem at the heart of this Lions tour, and that is that the whole Lions ethos is fading, just as the traditional international tours that have been part of the rugby calendar since Victoria reigned are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The Lions tours were, above all things, about glory. Rugby legends made their names on Lions tours - Tony O'Reilly's 22 tries on the South African tour of 1955, Matt Dawson blazing onto the international arena in the tour of South Africa in 1997 and, at the zenith of the Lions experience, the coronation of Barry "King" John in New Zealand in 1971.

The common theme of rugby tours is, what a treat it was that the South Africans got to see Tony O'Reilly at his pomp, getting a supply of ball on the wing that Ireland could never have hoped to supply. What a treat it was to see Barry John reach heights of out-half play that haven't been dreamt of since in New Zealand in 1971. And in converse, what a treat it was here in 1989 to see Buck Shelford bringing his World Cup winning All-Blacks to the Northern Hemisphere. What a treat it was to watch Australia's Mark Ella in 1984. What a treat it was to see New Zealand and the Baa-baas in the Arms Park in 1973.

What treats have Sir Clive's Lions given the New Zealand rugby playing public? Henson and Geordan Murphy were as good as it got, neither considered good enough to even sit on the bench for the first test. Sir Clive thinks that it's all about the Tests but he's wrong; Lions tours are all about the glory.

When this Lions tour gets from the All-Blacks what the chicken got from the axe, it's not like it's the first time - that '71 side are still the only Lions side to win a series in New Zealand. So Sir Clive would be forgiven for losing the Tests, as he wouldn't be the first and - if the tours continue - he won't be the last. But what he can't be forgiven for is legislating glory out of the Lions tours, because if it's not about the glory, then what is the point?