When an International player retires, you often see the press comment about the players achievements, their domestic record, how many international caps they received, the world cups they played in..but for a few, a very lucky few, the words “British and Irish Lion” is mentioned and that title simply sums up that player.
To become a Lion is to reach the pinnacle of a players career. To be seen by your peers as the best of the best and travel to either South Africa, New Zealand or Australia to prove your worth, against amazing odds is something legends are made of. As the four home nations come together, under a single banner, to play as one, in what many would call a scratch side taking on the leading rugby nations…well, to make that team, win a test or if good fortune smiles, to win a Lions series, is something truly special. Kipling’s poem “If” often comes to mind when I think of the Lions…
“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!'”
England playmaker Owen Farrell has that spirit to “hold on”, and thinks the British and Irish Lions have a squad capable of taking on any team in the world. He stated to the press that he and the rest of the team have “the spirit to beat the All Blacks in the three-Test series.”
The Lions will arrive in New Zealand on Wednesday after a stopover in Melbourne and Farrell commented taking on the world champions in their own back yard will be a “tough challenge”. However he only needs to look around him to see he’s surrounded by a great Lions squad, who have the potential to be legends in their own lifetime.
Ireland showed that the Kiwis are not unbeatable in Chicago last year, particularly when missing key players. Although Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are now fit, the likes of Dane Coles, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino and Beauden Barrett have had or are having injury issues at present.
Farrell stated “It’s a brilliant squad that’s going out there, full of world-class players. If we get it right and make sure we’re on the same page as soon as possible, I’d imagine this squad would challenge anyone. Everyone firmly believes we’re going out to win and that’s the way it should be.” Farrells and his team mates strength of desire to win brings me back to Kiplings “If” and the last four lines..
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
Will this tour see some very young players stamp their mark in the history books, even with the most challenging itinerary ever put together?
With 41 players taking the long trip, including superstars such as Farrell, Itoje, Watson, Daly, Hogg and O’Mahony, I personally feel the tour, held over a very short period will be very tough, in fact the hardest one the Lions have ever attempted. Rest, injuries and referring will all play a major part in the final outcome.
The All Blacks look good, however some key players will be carrying injuries and the pressure will be on them to ensure a 3-0 whitewash. The mid-week games will see the Lions face amazing pressure and several key players targeted before any Test takes place. When I think of who will be targeted, then Farrell and Sexton top my hit list and I worry that one, if not both, will not be able to finish the tour in one piece.
If the mid-week team perform well, this will instill confidence on the tour and put pressure on those 1st choice Lions to play to their very best. If the Lions can take a victory in the 1st Test, then that opens up the Series. If the Lions suffer a heavy defeat in the opener, then I can’t only see a massive uphill battle, which I don’t think the Lions will have time to rectify.
Whatever happens on (and off) the field, this Lions series in New Zealand is hotly anticipated by all rugby fans. However, don’t forget we have the Japanese World Cup coming up in 2019 and this series will also go a long way in developing key players involved.
It will be an amazing learning curve for many, a fantastic experience for fans, inspiring for young players and the unique chance for 41 players to claim the status of Lions series winner. Game on!