Hindsight is a truly wonderful thing.
Once this tour is ended, Warren Gatland will either be hailed as the mastermind of not one, but two tour victories or as a chump who undermined the very integrity of the Lions itself. This, of course, comes down to the outcome of the tests. Should the test players be successfully protected by his gallant reserves from the Welsh 4th team, and his kick and clap tactics suffocate the All Blacks outfit, the Lions can sing Jerusalem and The Fields of Athenry and Calon Lan all the way home; no one will even mention the fact that they’re not singing a Scottish song…
The Super Franchises
All that is a lovely prospect, but surely we cannot disregard the last number of weeks solely based on the outcome of the tests. A tour is always a special thing and this tour has been no different. The excitement of every rugby fan has been palpable, and the displays of New Zealand culture have been the best tourism advertisement for the country since Lord of the Rings. It is an insult to the Blues, the Crusaders, the Highlanders, the Chiefs and the Hurricanes to say that this tour is all about the tests. It’s an insult to the New Zealand public to say that the results against these teams are not important. I find it ridiculously arrogant of Gatland to say this, especially considering that they struggled so much in Auckland and Dunedin.
And then, of course, there’s the utter effrontery associated with these replacements that have been called in at the last minute. In a country such as New Zealand, where integrity and pride are central ideas, bringing six players who are not of Lions standard is simply a bitter pill to swallow. One could argue that these are media tactics, in a sort of Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho sort of way. One could also argue that the ends of this decision make it justified. I struggle to accept this.
Ian McGeechan presented a formidable challenge to perhaps the greatest test team of the professional era in 2009 without even a slight compromise of the Lions code and spirit. At what point is it acceptable to disrespect provincial teams, or to disrespect the Lions jersey, just to help the test side?
It all comes down to what we want to get out of a Lions tour. I want the Lions to be competitive; I want them to take this series to the 3rd test, and to show the World that Northern Hemisphere rugby is of an extremely competitive standard. In that regard, Gatland has prepared a team that can trouble the All Blacks, and I can’t wait for the tests to start on Saturday. But regarding the entity of the Lions, the history of it, the ethos of it, the very foundation of what a Lions or any rugby tour should represent, Gatland has somehow sucked a little bit of joy out of what has otherwise been the most exciting rugby prospect I’ve ever witnessed.
Author: Conor Lamb