Foley’s Force selection questions relevance of Lions tour

Since yesterday morning, when rumours began emanating from Australia that Michael Foley was set to field an understrength Western Force side for their game against the Lions tomorrow, social media has been rife with pundits, ex-players and fans alike damning him for his disrespect for the institution of the Lions.

Foley’s argument goes that he has an important Australian derby in the Super XV on Sunday, and thus needs some or all of his players fit and fresh for that. However, his decision to include seven players uncapped even at Super Rugby level and a bench made up mostly of players drafted from Sydney club rugby has been met with condemnation in the rugby world.

“It was about whether it was reasonable to have blokes back up four days later,” Foley told The Herald Sun. “The way we see it we have a Test match tomorrow night and depending on what the ARU decides, we may have another Test match on Sunday. Certainly the intensity with which the Waratahs are playing, that’s what we expect. So asking players to do that twice is unreasonable.

“Ideally you would like a week between games, just to be able to sit down and pick a team and then reassess and pick another team. What we have had to do is juggle our squad across two games, and look to pick a number of senior, experienced internationals against the Lions. What we said was realistically we weren’t able to meet the challenge and do it justice by trying to pick the same 22 guys twice.”

When asked why the Lions weren’t made a priority over a largely irrelevant clash with the Waratahs, Foley said: “The pressure is to deliver every game you play as a team. When you suggest not putting every effort into the first game I think that is pretty insulting to the guys taking the field. We think this is the best team for this game in light of the fixture list we have been given.”

Foley, who is perhaps looking to get one over his old franchise, said he believed he’d paid respect to the Lions with the selection of six players with Test experience.

“Looking at Matt Hodgson, our captain, playing against the Lions tells you a fair bit about what we think. Richard Brown – our international No.8, Toby Lynn – our most experienced lock and lineout caller, Salesi Ma’afu – our international tighthead. We’ve loaded the side up, but at the same time we have tried to keep combinations together for the Waratahs, so the performance in both games is coherent.”

Whatever Foley says, the fact of the matter is that this is likely to be another game in which the Lions aren’t really tested. And he believes that the scheduling needs to be looked at, calling into question the relevance of the Barbarians game at the weekend – a fixture that has already been written off by some as more of a commercial venture than a viable rugby match.

On the scheduling of the tour, Foley said, “There are some challenges. Probably the most important thing is the scheduling. Obviously there was a Barbarians game on the weekend, that could have been a Force game,” Foley said. “It is doable. There is a big push in terms of getting more games. That obviously creates stress on the players, and player welfare is a significant factor when you make these decisions.”

While the game against the Baa Baas did turn out to be a bit of a farce in terms of preparing the Lions, it is not the only factor at work here. Pundits and fans alike in the Southern Hemisphere are united in the view that Super Rugby has become too convoluted, with the addition of three franchises since 2005. It has created a more confusing and much busier schedule. If there were still only 12 teams in Super Rugby, chances are the Force would not have had to play the Waratahs this weekend and they could have fielded a full strength team against the Lions.

It will be interesting to see as the tour goes on if franchises pick the best players available to them, or if they follow the route of Foley in resting players for the Lions games. After all, if the team bottom of the Aussie log puts more priority on Super Rugby, how are teams competing for the play-offs likely to feel? Will they really risk their first team regulars in a one-off tour match? If they choose not to, there is a very real danger that the Lions will arrive at the first test somewhat undercooked.

The future of Lions tours is up for review after the 2017 trip to New Zealand, and if they continue to fail to get viable warm-up games then something will surely need to be changed. Trips to Argentina, the USA, the Pacific Islands etc. could become a real possibility, as they would provide much better preparation (purely in rugby terms) for the Lions. After all, what are they really going to gain from putting 50 points on a Western Force ‘B’ team?

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

21 thoughts on “Foley’s Force selection questions relevance of Lions tour

  1. Not a big surprise. The Australians are top of the tree when it comes to doing anything and everything they can get away with in sport to get an advantage. I expect similar things in all of the other pre-test matches and further expect them to deliberately be drilled to play in ways that the national team will not. Any edge they can gain, they will.

  2. I disagree completely that this puts questions over the relevance of Lions Tours. What determines a Tour is the Test matches, not the warm-up games. It is part of the challenge of the tourists, to prepare for the Tests as best they can, despite the games that the regional sides may be playing.

    I suspect that there is some mileage in the fact that Foley is prioritising the Warratahs game and that is not going down too well with some of the Aussie public and media.

    let’s face it, The AB tours to the UK are not devalued because they don’t play Llanelli, Munster and the North of England anymore!

    1. I’m 180 degrees to you on this Blub. A Lions tour is special because it is not just a 3-test series, it is a proper tour. This is part of what makes it unique and special. Seeing provincial players get matches against the Lions for what will probably be the only time in their lives is a rare treat for them and us. When done well it is magic, such as some of the provincial games on the last two tours.

      As this blog says, if countries are going to start messing the Lions about by making the pre-agreed provincial tour matches meaningless then the Lions will need to start reconsidering the structures of the tour – we either move to a 3-test series (which I think will remove a lot of the magic, it’ll be just like those awful annual North v South rugby league things) or (and I like this suggestion) make the warm up watches be against Arg, USA, Fiji, etc.

      1. Utterly in agreement with Brighty here. A 3 test series and no tour would soon see the death of the Lions – there is nothing special about it and soon there would be no reason to keep it going.

        Quite apart from giving them time to gel and work together, part of the Lions lore and attraction are the mid-week teams and games and the players who force themselves into the test teams through the strength of their performances. If the mid-week matches are a fore-gone conclusion, then this will never happen.

        A replacement by playing other test sides might work, but then you lose the idea of the Lions playing an entire rugby nation, not just their test players.

        And personally, I would love to see visiting sides tour a bit more

        How good was it watching Leicester beat South Africa and almost beat Australia recently? or Munster almost beating the ABs in 2008 and beating the Aussies in 2010?

        I’d love to see the Argies, ABs or Saffas take on Leinster or the Ospreys or Quins

        1. agree with you and Brighty here. a 3 test tour isnt the same, we get those (or 2 testers) about twice a year. (summer tours and AI’s). it would be pointless.

          i also agree that, playing other nations would be better than playing weakened provincial teams. but as Pablito said, the idea of the lions is to play a nation, so playing properly strengthened regions would be better than playing the other nations. also, i think that regularly (every 4 years) playing the other nations would eventually lead to the regions toured being expanded (like how Argentina were added to the tri-nations). eventually they are going to think that they dont want to be the “warm-up team” they will want to be the main challenge.

          another beauty of the lions is that you do not get tours this long anymore. it is a throwback to the old days of touring, and it must be a great experience.

          and finally, the whole beauty of the lions is the possibility that a dirt tracker may work his way into the test team and become the hero of the 3rd test. the is something that doesnt happen often anymore.

          the lions are hugely relevant, and they will continue to be for a long time. i think the fact that we (and all of the rugby world) have been talking about them for the past 2 years proves how much people anticipate them.

          1. I agree with these three. Without travelling the country to play the provincials, it becomes less of a tour and more like a regular test series, except with the added annoyance of being four times less frequent.

      2. Brighty, I am not sure it is 180 degrees. 90 degrees perhaps.

        I agree that the Lions should continue to play the provinces/states etc. My point – perhaps poorly made – is that the tour is not lessened because of some teams ambivalence to the teams they put out.

        I also think that the big losers here are not the Lions, but the first-line players who do not get to play the Lions, and the fans who want to see the best players.

        I would suggest also, that it is not by mistake that the Force are the first game (like the last few Aussie tours).

  3. this shouldn’t be an issue for any other games, as there are no more super rugby games until the 28th June (day before the second test) and even then, the Australian teams aren’t playing Super Rugby until the 12th July after this weekend.

    Maybe the game against the Combined NSW-QLD Country should’ve been this week?

  4. I agree with Foley in the fact that for Super Rugby it is an important game in regards to the table and points.

    If the Force beat the Waratahs (may won’t happen) then it can affect the Waratahs play off chances. The Waratahs need to win this game and ideally get the 5 points to have any chance of getting into the playoffs so I am sure the Force will go all out to win (bragging rights) as there is nothing else to play for.

  5. I also agree with Foley. He has to do whats in the best interests of his squad and it sounds as if thats exactly what hes doing.

    I always liked the idea of a team made of the best of the southern hemisphere doing a tour in the same way as the lions do and coming to Britain and Ireland.

  6. Last Lions tour the visitors put 100 points on Western Australia. The Force were only formed for Super Rugby in Western Australia and so wouldn’t have had any test players if not involved. If the Lions only put 50 points on them then the situation has improved from 12 years ago.

    The Force had a bye last weekend so if the Lions had have turned up them they would have faced a full strength team (such as it has been this year). The BaaBaas match was obviously a priority to satisfy a sponsor over the desire for an better build up. The money will determine future tours not any respect or disrespect for the dirt trackers.

    Fingers crossed all the other mid week games are against full strength sides. There is certainly a level of excitement about them in Australia after last tour.

  7. Have to say that I miss the touring games of yesteryear when club players actually had the chance to take on international teams, and in many cases it was the pinnacle of some players rugby playing careers. However the game has changed and touring teams don’t need the warm ups now as they train together so much. I know there is the occasional one but it’s not quite the same.

    However the Lions are different as they bring together a disparate collection of 4 nations and actually need the games to work out who to play with who and how.

    If the Aussies don’t want to play the games, I agree with the comments above, let the Lions play some of the other test playing nations as I am sure that they would welcome the revenue and kudos. However that does devalue a tour to a specific country.

    Having said that, I don’t know who set up the schedules, because two big games in 4 days is exceedingly difficult in the modern game, so I do have some sympathy with Foley.

  8. So we get The Western Farce Vs The B&I Lions.

    I can sympathise with Foley’s predicament, why should he give two hoots about the credibility of future Lions tours or maximising revenue for the ARU or anything else that isn’t his primary objective of getting his side as far, in it’s only competition, as possible.

    Unfortunately the contest is devalued as a result and I feel very sorry for the Force players who miss out on their once in a lifetime opportunity to face the Lions.

    However … this could have been avoided through some better scheduling … or even brokering a deal between the ‘Tahs and Force that both sides will rest X first team regulars at the weekend.

    I don’t think this is some Machiavellian ARU master plan as:
    – They are relying on the tour to bale them out of a financial hole, so anything that undermines it’s credibility is contrary to that aim.
    – The relationship between the franchises and ARU seems too dysfunctional to orchestrate any plan of any sort (e.g. the spat through the media on whether Cooper should be included)

  9. I don’t give a rats behind who the force throw on the field as long as the Lions smash them in and get a resounding victory I’m happy … Plus lagger’s definitely tasting absolutely wonderful with this nice spell of sunshine we’re getting … Bottoms up ladies and gents .. Come on you Lions smash them farce up to smithereens

  10. and I’d rather watch the state of origin match nsw vs qsld much more entertaining and brutal . This game against the force is without a doubt going to be a pretty boring one .

  11. I bet the state of origins match between nsw and qsld would be a better watch than watching this match . Much more entertaining and brutal . This force game is without a shadow of a doubt going to be a right bore…

  12. Force are obviously a weakened side, but I don’t think its disrespectful to the Lions? They will still put up a better fight than the Barbarians on Saturday and it’s a great chance for some of the young Force players to make a name for themselves against the best we have to offer, I think people are over doing it with seemingly everything being disrespectful to the Lions, and I’m sure Foley will also be thinking about the tests and the best thing for the Aussies is if the Lions get complacent, so it seems like a pretty rational decision and as Niall said after next week there is no Super Rugby fixtures till the 28th so we can expect everyone else to have a real crack at the Lions and we should be in for a great series!:)

    1. Wow, urinating in ones underwear to keep oneself warm seems to be the approach. I’m staggered at this, especially as the Reds had such a good crack last week.

      Fixtures with Samoa and Tonga would have been far better, sides who will see it as a privilege and embrace the opportunity. No doubt they would play their hearts out and put up a far better challenge.

    2. In fairness, there is a little bit of misreported info here.

      They haven’t “left out” 16 players, they are unable to select 16 of their first choice. 10 are away with the wallabies, and the rest are injured.

      The sevens duo who have been “called up” have both been playing regular super rugby this season, and in fact the Tahs were annoyed at their initial call up.

      Australia are a worthy team for the lions to be playing. After all, rugby union is 4th choice sport over there, and yet they can still compete.

      The biggest issue has been the scheduling. Why this tour is happening DURING the super rugby tournament is crazy. Similarly, there is no IRB directive saying people should be made free to play the lions, only ones to for those playing FOR the lions. Maybe this is a future problem to be resolved?

      Ultimately though, the scheduling is the biggest issue. After all, we wouldn’t be seeing another tournament happening at the same time as the rugby World Cup, would we?


        this seems to have a better grip of the situation. Players unavailable, duo return to improve options.

        Cheika knows what the lions will bring to the party, he spent more time in this hemisphere than most coaches over there. he also spent time with Leinster, so he will know some of the lions personally.

        i would expect (and hope) for more of a Reds vs Lions rather than a Force vs Lions situation.

        I dont expect a huge fight from the Rebels, as they tend not to have the depth of the others (from what i have seen) but the Tahs and Brumbies should be able to put on a good show.

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