If any more evidence was needed that those who agreed to the Lions itinerary were more out of touch than Boris thinking it would be a good idea to attend a miners’ conference, it came yesterday at Whangarei.
The Lions came scarily close to losing to a group of semi-professionals – talented and committed – but semi-pros none the less.
Warren Gatland, who, until now has staunchly refused to condemn the schedule he was forced to accept, finally came out and said what he and most sensible rugby fans already knew –
“We’d have preferred to have a week in the UK with the squad and a week in NZ,” said Gatland after the win at Toll Stadium. “We’ve known about the schedule for 12 months and it’s difficult to change that.
“I think that the powers-that-be in four years’ time will think about the schedule and the importance of having the right preparation and the right time. The ideal scenario would’ve been to have a week in New Zealand before the first game.”
Gatland cited jet lag as one of the reasons for the Lions’ lethargy against the Barbarians, with a number of players continuing to struggle to get into an ideal sleeping pattern.
A 24 hour flight, 11 time changes, and a nonsensical stop- over in Australia – what better way to get ready to play rugby in less than 72 hours?
No wonder it was a lack lustre performance.
On Wednesday Steve Hansen, whilst stating that the All Blacks would never have agreed to such a ridiculous itinerary asked why some of the party hadn’t flown out earlier.
This simply highlights a failure to understand the problems of trying to mould players from 4 countries into a tight unit in a matter of days. Players who until very recently were knocking lumps out of each other – not in club rivalry, but fuelled by inherent national hatred. As evidenced by player comments in the media during the 6 Nations.
To leave in two separate groups would serve only to exacerbate a natural divide that already exists.
You only need to look at the tours of 2001 and 2005 to see the well- publicised fractures that occurred in the touring parties.
It was the job of the Lions administrators to arrange for better preparation time rather than kowtow to the NZRU demands.
The Lion’s tour organisation is the equivalent of asking Eric Pickles to look after your pork pie while you go for a waz!
Predictably the NZ media have savaged the Lions – although there has been little mention of the possibility of jet lag. A cyclops is less myopic than most of the rugby media in NZ.
One writer described the Lions as “pathetic” and “a disgrace” and stated confidently that the team will lose all 9 remaining games.
Another stated with undisguised schadenfreude, that Lions fans will have wasted thousands on their trips to follow the team – once more misunderstanding the nature of Lions supporters.
Lion’s fans travel more in hope than expectation – if they were only interested in winning then there would be far fewer of them – and virtually none would fork out for NZ. We went on two tours – 2001 and 2005 – we lost all but one of the test matches – did we feel that we wasted our money? You are joking – it was two of the best trips we ever went on. Lion’s fans have a great time – win or lose.
However, keep up the media vitriol guys and you’ll help hasten the demise of the Lions together with the lucrative revenue that the tours provide for the NZRU and your economy.
The Lions will play a lot better once they fully recover – and they will need to as they are now effectively playing 9 test matches in 6 weeks, whilst at the same time trying to bond and find combinations that will work.
Will they lose all or most of the games? Quite possibly.
Steve Hansen has a squad that are settled and know each other – plus a strength in depth that will eradicate any injury problems.
The form at the weekend of all 5 NZ Super franchises was scary and players like Milner-Skudder may not even be included in the squad that Hansen will announce this week.
The lesson for the admin blokes in charge of organising Lions tours is simple – innovate or die.
They have already stated that future tours will be reduced to 8 games but have said nothing about additional preparation time. Have they learned nothing?
Never again should such a suicidal tour be agreed.
Sadly I don’t think the Lions will ever tour NZ again – and that the last ever tour will be in 2025 to Australia – maybe even SA in 2021.
On the tombstone will be printed ‘A great rugby brand destroyed by ignorant administrators’