In defence of the midweek game

Some people seem to have missed the point of the mid-week game on a Lions tour. There has been gnashing of teeth from some that this tour has not been hard enough yet. Granted, the games versus the Barbarians, Western Force and the Combined Country XV have all been walk overs.

There seem to be elements that have been ignored, however.

First, there have always been these sorts of games on tour. It is an important thing for the team to get a winning feeling. You want them to get used to scoring in that famous red jersey.

These are all results from Tours since the advent of professionalism:

South Africa 1997
– Mpulanga (64-14)
– Northern Free State (67-39)

Australia 2001
– Western Australia (116-10)
– Queensland Presidents XV (83-6)

New Zealand 2005
– Manawatu (109-6)

South Africa 2009
– Golden State Lions (74-10)

Yes, they have been easy games, but they have been part of a mix with more difficult challenges thrown in. On this tour, the Queensland Reds were certainly a tough team, and you would have to expect the Brumbies and the Waratahs to provide stiff matches too. They are great occasions for the teams against whom they are playing. Not many players get the opportunity to play against the Lions. They visit a country once every 12 years, and as Ewen McKenzie, Head Coach of the Reds, pointed out, this is a once in a lifetime chance for these blokes.

The Western Force coach, Michael Foley, has rightly come in for criticism for his weakened selection, but it should be focussed as much on him denying his stars the chance to play against the Lions, as it is him failing in his duty (if such a duty exists) to provide the Lions with a serious challenge. The Lions is a wonderful institution, and the seriousness with which it is treated by players past and present is evidence of this. But they also inspire players in the country in which they tour, including the future generations who will aim one day to play for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The players for the Combined Country got an absolute hammering in Newcastle on the scoreboard. At no point though did they buckle in terms of commitment. It is an insult to these men, some of whom are amateurs, to say that they are not worthy of playing against the best Britain and Ireland has to throw at them. Think of the stories they will be able to tell their children and grandchildren about the day they lined up against Brian O’Driscoll. Imagine you are 10 years old, from Newcastle, and got to see local men playing the best players from the other side of the world. It’s inspirational stuff especially in a part of the world obsessed with Rugby League.

Rugby prides itself on its ability to be all-inclusive. These sorts of games are among the best examples of that spirit. Those sneering at the weaker opposition on tour need to get off their high horses. Let’s look at it positively; a great bonding exercise ahead of the bigger games. There are plenty of huge hits and painful collisions coming the Lions’ way in the next couple of weeks, and forming an understanding, even against lesser opposition, is important.

By Chris Francis (@mckrisp)

7 thoughts on “In defence of the midweek game

  1. Thanks for pointing that out. it does bother me a little bit when the pundits are calling these games a waste. Yes, they’re perhaps not worth the hype, but they perform an important part of a tour, giving people from around Australia or wherever the Lions may be visiting to see the Lions play against their teams and in some cases amateurs.

    I seem to remember in 1974 to SA during appartheid they played a black side. A completely amateur side, but the tour is not about that.

    I actually appreciate midweek games on any tour. Going to Welford Road to see Leicester play Australia and South Africa was great and it’s a good opportunity for teams to take a look at the other options in their squad without potentially losing a test over it, I think international sides should really return to playing club teams on tour. Good for everyone, bad for no one.

    1. agree with Wookie here.

      i am a big fan of the midweek games. sure, its not the most challenging for the lions, but it build confidence, and its a chance to gel together and work on combinations.

      Nathan Hines said that Clermont have about 100 lineout calls, and they take roughly 20 into a given match. I hope that we are looking at something similar for the lions, and they take the opportunity to run 2-3 moves that they want in their test repertoire per mid-week game. that way they are giving the moves a run in a competitive environment, but also not showing their whole hand at once.

      another huge bonus about the mid-week games is their link back to the old types of touring. many of the lions have commented on how much rugby they are playing, and that it is something that they arent used to now (maitland said he hadnt played this much since u11’s). this is not only a great rugby spectacle, but it is also one of the most traditional and enriching experiences the players will ever get.

      so they get the occasional walkover game. they also get the odd toughy too (reds, Maoris, Emerging Boks).

      The mid-week games are as much a part of the tour as the tests. if you stop the mid-week matches, then you might as well stop the tour all together.

  2. It’s really important for the Lions as they get used to playing together, not so sure about other international teams any more, unless they need the extra revenue. So maybe some of the smaller nations (in revenue terms!).

    1. i think getting other nations involved becomes a slippery slope.

      Much like we saw with Argentina, the more a team get exposure to playing top flight opposition, the better they get. after a while and with improvement we will start to get them wanting to be more involved. Eventually i could see nations like Argentina, Samoa etc wanting to no longer be the warmup teams, but rather the main event.

      after all, Samoa currently sit above 2 of the nations contributing to the lions in the IRB rankings. and in the last year they have beaten 2 of the contributing nations. surely it would be pretty hard to justify why Samoa cannot host the lions, based on stats like that… (just an example to illustrate the slippery slope).

      1. I agree with your point about Samoa & Argentina but if the mid-week games are sneered at (undeserverdly so as I agree these games are needed to help The Lions gel) against teams in Australia, South Africa & New Zealand what kind of warm up oppostion could the domestic leagues in either country, at the moment offer as decent opposition?

        For Samoa you could argue warm up games against other pacific island countries such as Tonga and Fiji but this could be viewed as a thumbed nose to both countries, who have proven to hold there own against top class opposition but where would the warm up games lie for Argentina? Uruguay are the only other South American team with World Cup experience, who are not in the same league as Fiji or Tonga and the likes of Chile & Brazil would be destroyed by The Lions.

  3. In all seriousness I know it’s only a hop across the channel but I have always wondered why The Lions have never toured France. The top Top 14 teams would give them a stern test and the Test matches could be thoroughly entertaining.

  4. Not sure that looking at a couple of results over the last few tours is putting it into context.

    Looking at the last couple of tours in a bit more detail we don’t appear to be getting the same quality of test this time out (midweek and weekend).

    Royal XV 25 – 37 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Golden Lions 10 – 74 British and Irish Lions
    Free State Cheetahs 24 – 26 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Natal Sharks 3 – 39 British and Irish Lions
    Western Province 23 – 26 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Southern Kings 8 – 20 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Emerging Springboks 13 – 13 British and Irish Lions

    In 2005 the landslide hammering was between the first and second tests against a second division side, clearly the fixture wasn’t designed to be a contest.
    British and Irish Lions 25 – 25 Argentina
    Bay of Plenty Steamers 20 – 34 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Taranaki 14 – 36 British and Irish Lions
    New Zealand M?ori 19 – 13 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Wellington Lions 6 – 23 British and Irish Lions
    Otago 19 – 30 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Southland Stags 16 – 26 British and Irish Lions
    (M) Manawatu Turbos 6 – 109 British and Irish Lions

    We had been given a much tougher examination over the first 4 or 5 games of the last couple of tours than this time round. But it’s some of the decisions that have devalued the contests that irked me, i.e. prioritising a dead rubber fixture against your regular rivals, or having players away in a 7s camp. Given it’s the host nation that makes the profits and has all the TV rights etc it’s the host nation that loses out if these fixtures don’t exist in the future. Negotiating a couple of games with NZ super rugby franchises or the Maori would have been preferable to what we’ve had this time round.

Comments are closed.