Despite a British and Irish Lions Tour to remember there are still some people who question the quadrennial tour. They have questioned whether the united Lions are good enough to take on the Southern Hemisphere teams, and whether in the professional era with shorter tours there is enough time for the coaches to mould these four nations into one team.
Rugby officially turned professional after the 1995 Rugby World Cup which was won by South Africa. It is interesting to look at since then how often the Lions have toured and taken on the reigning World Champions.
In 1997 they toured South Africa, who were the World Champions. In 2001 they were in Australia and in 1999 the Australians had been crowned World Champions. In 2005 they toured New Zealand with a squad dominated by the World Champions England, and coached by the coach that saw them become the first Northern hemisphere side to win the World Cup, Sir Clive Woodward. As has been well documented, the Lions went away from many of their traditional ways, and paid a heavy price being beaten 0-3 in the series.
In 2009 the Lions were back in South Africa and the Springboks were once again World Champions having won in 2007. In 2013 they played Australia and had their first series win since 1997. Maybe that was because Australia were not the World Champions?
Then in the recently tied series the Lions once again took on the reigning World Champions in New Zealand.
So bearing in mind that the coaches have to assemble and mould a team from four nations into one cohesive unit in a very short space of time, the Lions have actually performed in the main remarkably well.
If we look at the recent tour of New Zealand, the Lions played their first game three days after landing in the country on June 3rd. On May 27th there were eleven players who had yet to join the squad as it prepared for the tour due to commitments with their clubs!
Unlike the tours of old the Lions then played 10 games in 35 days. Five of those against the nation’s Super Rugby franchises, four of which have made the quarter finals of the competition.
Taking all of these factors into consideration the recent Lions tour must be classed as a huge success.
Yet those who feel that the Lions tours should be consigned to history simply do not understand that Lions tours offer so much more than just results. They are a unique environment for those lucky enough to be selected, and are a part of their careers that few forget. In fact many have fonder memories of a Lions tour than regular international games. Then there are the players who have the opportunity to play against the Lions, something that only comes around every 12 years.
Now the fans too have become a major part of each Lions tour. A Lions Tour sees fans from all four nations unite and enjoy the camaraderie of rugby union. Friendships are once again forged off the pitch, some that will last a lifetime.
The British and Irish Lions have shown that they can compete with the best, as most of their opponents in recent times have been World Champions; as we have highlighted. It is a unique sporting experience, and it is a part of the game’s history, and just as the All Blacks hold the tradition of their shirt dear to their hearts so to do Lions players. It must live on.