I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say Saturday’s Lions game against the Crusaders could decide whether the Lions exist as a meaningful entity in the future.
If they capitulate on Saturday there is every possibility that we go on to witness another 2005. Sadly, the appetite globally for a Lions tour of significant length in an already crowded season will be severely diminished.
Regardless of results, we need to see a passionate, hungry set of individuals. These individuals need to put aside national differences and give everything they have got to overcome the greatest of odds. Seeing traditional rivals conjoin to augment each other’s skills and talents is one of the most fulfilling and debate-provoking occasions in rugby. There is no question that to beat the All Blacks in a home series is difficult. In fact, some would argue that it is the most difficult obstacle to overcome in world team sport.
One off victories against the Kiwis have been based on bringing an aggression and mental edge for eighty minutes. Eighty minutes of high intensity to prevent the All Blacks from dictating the pace of the game. But even this is not enough, you also need to deny them time to manipulate defences and create space, as they do so wonderfully well. Their win ratio shows that this is easier to say than achieve. It is with this in mind that I am surprised that the main duo entrusted with the heralded Lions brand are two people with such an abysmal track record against the Southern Hemisphere giants.
The Welsh View
With Wales, Gatland and Howley have repeatedly failed to come anywhere near beating New Zealand.
On an upside, I have been fortunate to attend every home game for Wales v New Zealand since 1989. But on the flipside, I am sorry to say I have never felt the rush of adrenaline as a Wales supporter where I have truly dared to believe “we could win this!” Not even the one-point loss in ’04 did we ever really believe.
Our victories in the 6 Nations are usually based on outpowering the opposition as well as a stubborn defence; tactics which work well in the north. But it is not successful when faced with the mysteries of pace and changing angles of the south.
Howley has now added “chaos” to his list of favourite sounding words. Chaos now accompanies “physicality”, “transition” and “red zone”, which he rolls out at media meetings. Presumably to avoid giving a genuine answer. Or perhaps he hasn’t learned how to pronounce “predictable” or “pedestrian” yet.
It is telling and somewhat saddening as a passionate Welshman, that even this early in the tour, the fact you could possibly see eight Welsh players start the opening Test (Owens, Jones, Tipuric, Faletau, Davies, Williams, North, Halfpenny) fills me with apathy rather than exhilaration. These same players have repeatedly failed to deliver against the All Blacks over the years. An apparent lack of mental fortitude, originality or flair seems to be devoid against the All Blacks. Certainly under Gatland and Howley it is, so why will this test series be any different?
It is such a shame that Joe Schmidt and Gregor Townsend declined the offer to tour. I have an awful feeling we will always be left wondering. Wondering one of two things. If it is an innate deficiency in the basic skill levels of the Lions players or the restrictive confines they are asked to play within that means we are simply not at the All Blacks level.
Canterbury in June may not be the best place for the future of the Lions to hang in the balance.
Author: John Vaughan
John Vaughan. Part time dentist and full time fan of all things rugby (especially Welsh rugby!)