The last ever Lions Tour?

All this talk of the Lions as an outdated concept is utter nonsense. How anyone can have watched the first two Tests and still believe that this should be the last Lions tour is so far beyond me that I cannot see it.

Arguments against the Lions appear to focus on the fact that the last seven Test matches have resulted in defeats, and that if the Lions aren’t competitive, they cannot be taken seriously as Test opposition.

Not competitive? Did you see either Test? A cumulative deficit of just eight points against the World Champions does not suggest a one-sided affair. The Lions do not deserve to be two-nil down in this series, and they should have won at least one, if not both games. The heroic pride demonstrated by the men in red, not to mention their world-class skill and the strategies they employed, have made for a completely memorable occasion, ensuring that this series will be hailed as one of the greatest – and most competitive – in history.

Some people have been heard denigrating the good name of the Lions claiming they are no longer a viable commercial entity if they are such underdogs, pointing to empty seats at every stadium as supporting evidence. These people should look at the South African union, rather than the Lions committee when they are pointing the finger of blame.

Stories of extortionate ticket prices and profiteering, on top of the ludicrous itinerary designed to minimise the chances of a Lions victory, are perhaps more to blame. The Springboks were so desperate to gain revenge for the 1997 defeat that they conspired to make life difficult for Ian McGeechan’s touring party.

Citing the New Zealand disaster in 2005 as further evidence of the Lions’ demise is also futile, because that was a one-off. Yes, Sir Clive Woodward made a lot of mistakes and the tour was destined to fail, but the important thing is that the Lions have learnt from those mistakes, and McGeechan has righted most of them. That was only the third tour in the professional era, and the Lions are still finding their place in professional rugby, and they will continue to evolve.

In the same way, future tours, the managers and their players will also learn from the 2009 tour. In particular, I imagine that the Lions committee will want more of a say in organising tour logistics, not allowing themselves to be bullied by the host country. A Lions tour has huge benefit to the hosts, and there should be some compromise in order to create a competitive Test series.

For me, the two most recent Tests demonstrate that Lions Tours as a concept are going from strength to strength. The rugby was some of the finest I’ve seen in any match at any level, and the tension was something else. This is the first Lions Tour since The Rugby Blog was created in 2007, and if traffic and reader comments are anything to go by, interest levels are higher than for most other annual competitions.

So to those that have lost interest and think that this weekend could see the last ever Lions Test, watch the games again and rethink your position. We are sure to be engrossed, entertained and forced to the edge of our seats for many a tour to come.

On a site like The Rugby Blog, we are unlikely to get many people opposing the Lions, but please leave us your thoughts on some of the things people have been saying about the end of the Lions.

2 thoughts on “The last ever Lions Tour?

  1. Even if it was an outdated concept in a purely rugby sense, the commercial viability will ensure it continues. As long as 30-40,000 people are willing to spend thousands every four years to travel with the tour – not to mention the shirts at 85 quid each (they probably generate more revenue than any other sports shirt in the world in the year of a tour), TV revenue, sponsorship, etc.

    Moreover, as a rugby tradition it is still as vibrant and exciting as ever. Players will always be keen to be part of the Lions (most talk about it as the pinnacle of their career), and tri-nations teams will always be hungry to take them on. Both tests so far have been crackers. Both the BIL and bok players would surely say that in rugby terms this has been very valuable experience for them. The standard of world rugby is better for it.

    There are, however, things we can do to tweak the approach to the tours to reflect changes in the global game. I’ve seen some good suggestions posted here recently. One interesting one was the idea of having warm up games at home and reducing the games against local teams, who often see their role as trying to inflict as many injuries as possible. One thing’s for sure, the BIL team on Saturday is going to look severely depleted compared to the ideal starting XV (good job the series is over). The build up games is part of it, size of the squad and the willingness to call for back-ups are also relevant.

    Long live the Lions.

  2. The Lions defines everything that great about rugby, but if the team is not given the propoer respect and time, as McGeechan said, that there is a chance the Lions could become outdated.

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