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)
– 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)