With the Lions having just nilled an Australian NSW Combined Counties side that included a carpenter, plumber, electrical engineer, medical student and removal man in the squad surely it is time to reconsider the Lions concept.
The 64 -0 victory was preceded by a 59 – 8 victory over the Barbarians and a 69 – 17 win over a weakened Western Force side, the only team to have come out with any credit so far has been the Reds who went down 22 – 12 at the weekend. In total the opposition have scored just 37 points in 4 games (about a converted try a game) compared to The Lions 214 – a difference of 177 points in just four games.
On current form the Lions are outscoring their opponents by 44.25 points per game which equates to more than 6 converted tries per game. Now we know that everyone loves seeing tries scored but when they’re scored at such a rate of 1 point roughly every minute and a half with a reply of a point every nine minutes you can start to see how things are becoming a bit ridiculous.
How much is there that a Lions coach can learn from putting 60+ points on a team without reply? The Lions squad is supposedly made up of the 37 odd best players from the Britain and Ireland, so what can be learnt from playing a team consisting of 14 part-time players. The guys in the Lions squad play against stronger opposition in their domestic leagues each week than the Combined Counties team.
This is meant as no dis-respect to the team, they’ve been asked to take on a team of some of the best players in the Northern Hemisphere, nobody would have expected them to win or even come close without having first drank the clubhouse dry. Whilst games like this may have given Gatland the chance to experiment a little, how much can he really tell about his team as the standard of opposition doesn’t even begin to reflect the Wallabies test squad.
It is no wonder Michael Foley was not worried about sending out a poor Western Force side to take on the Lions earlier in the tour. Games like this make a mockery of the great tradition that is the Lions and sees the appeal for the host nation watered down to nothing more than one giant money making opportunity. The Lions need to find a way to bring back the awe and ensure that the opposition take them seriously.
Therefore, who not have the Lions play warm-up games against the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. The matches could have been played on the islands as they are notably closer to Australia than Hong Kong, whilst the opposition are likely to have provided a much sterner test than many of the sides the Lions have played so far. This would have given Warren Gatland a much better overview of where his team are at when competing against international standard teams.
In addition this would provide extra interest in the tour as rugby fans in the South Sea Islands would get a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch the historic Lions playing their national teams. The tour could even incorporate nations such as the USA, Argentina, Japan and other emerging rugby nations to help ensure the continued growth of the game across the globe.
I can understand the desires of the Australian Rugby Union to see all of the games played in Australia due to the financial incentives of hosting Lions games, but what is to stop them inviting say 3 international teams to compete against the Lions before the Super XV sides step in. This would ensure all parties remain happy as the Lions get a good run out whilst the ARU will benefit financially from the whole tour.
So far the tour has once again proved a resounding success with the ARU able to pretty much sell out the stadiums for the games to date, however the lure of watching the Lions take on international sides rather than semi-professional teams is sure to encourage wider interest and see the ARU able to sell out larger stadiums at higher prices. To me this seems like the obvious next step to ensure the Lions remain relevant in the modern rugby world.
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