A little bit of history and a look at the forthcoming test series between The British and Irish Lions and New Zealand in 2017.
36 past tours, 44 playing captains, 5 strips, 114 test matches and 4 countries The British and Irish Lions is a tradition that dates back to 1888. It’s a tradition that was threatened briefly by the onset of professionalism but I’m sure if you were to ask any home unions international, outside of a World Cup win, they would regard it as the pinnacle of their profession. A sentiment encapsulated perfectly by Jim Telfer’s famous, ‘many are considered, few are chosen’ pre-test speech to the forwards in South Africa in 1997.
The current crop of players has the prospect of a tour to New Zealand to look forward to. Theirs will not be a tour party of 21 nor will they have 19 games of Aussie Rules to negotiate as in 1888 or will they stop in Sri Lanka – or Ceylon as it was then – for a warm up game on the way there as was the case in 1930 and 1950. However, what they will find is an opposition that is as determined to beat them as on every tour since that first unsanctioned trip in 1888.
An overall test series win percentage on all tours of 42% makes for pretty grim reading but if placed alongside the 9% of tour victories when the side have travelled to the Land of the Long White Cloud then it starts to look a bit better. What it really does do however is outline how hard it is to win down there at the bottom of the planet; or if Keith Richards is to be believed the actual bottom of the world. Especially if you travel to Invercargill.
So how do the sides measure up now? The hosts are allegedly rebuilding and it could be argued the home unions are looking strong. The English saw off the Australians with alacrity, the Irish really should have beaten South Africa for the first time and the Scots sort of beat the Japanese easily. Even if they struggled in the heat to score points of the 5-point variety and Vern Cotter had a touch of the Roy Hodgsons about him when it came to deciding who his captain should be.
As for the Welsh they employed their new style and played with an openness not seen since someone at the Sunday Times shouted ‘Warren Ball’, which even drew praise from Justin Marshall. Though a fantastic scrum half he is also an honorary Welshman following his time at the Ospreys and it may well have been him blowing smoke up Warren Gatland in preparation for next year’s main event. Patronising or not the truth was there for all to see. In spite of periods of each test where they competed and indeed outscored their sheep loving cousins they were given an absolute seeing to when it really mattered. Perhaps the All Blacks don’t really ever rebuild. Certainly not since they had captain dilemmas with Taine Randell and Rueben Thorne.
As with most things the facts are a little more complicated. What is in our favour is that with all the home unions being led by Southern Hemisphere coaches we must stand a good chance of competing strongly. Indeed 3 out of the 4 are from New Zealand so that will surely be of some assistance. Though it is of course ultimately the players who have to perform. A steely backbone of a newly confident England led by that reformed naughty boy at hooker, goals kicked from anywhere by any number of fantastic goal kickers and with a sidestep of wingers ready to play behind a strong pack and a creative midfield we can run the hosts very close.
Hell, if we collude with the supporters’ groups to pinch Aaron Cruden’s skateboard, hide Sam ‘Samson’ Cane’s headband and give Beauden Barrett a Chinese burn until he cries we may just win outright. And if he recovers from injury I’d probably also advocate a quick switch of Nehe Milner-Skudder’s boots for a set of green flash. It’s also (I hope) a given the head coach won’t dream up a new anthem nor commit cultural hari-kari with a mocking response to the Haka that so infuriated everyone from both sides in 2005. Just ask BOD and Tana Umaga.
So a prediction based on well… just a hunch, zero science and the fact we are a year out so a ludicrous forecast is mandatory. The British and Irish Lions to win 2-1. Or an aggregate score over the 3 tests of 76-72 in favour of the British and Irish Lions. Plus, I recently went to a safari park and saw a lion housed near a flock of kiwis and considered briefly who would triumph in that particular battle once the lion had awoken from his afternoon (4 year) snooze.
What we can be sure of is that it is going to be a fantastic battle for the players to even get on that plane and we as supporters are in for a real treat between now and that final minute of the final test when, after 18 phases of patience and lung bursting forward work Stuart Hogg ghosts round the New Zealand second-five eighth with those tiny steps of his to pinch victory from the hosts to begin the mother of all celebrations in the Viaduct Harbour. See you there. It’s going to be fun.
JAMES HALLETT – LWTL SPORTS TRAVEL