x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

British & Irish Lions: All to play for down under

While there is value in the matches they have played, the Lions will have been misleading themselves if they think they have been truly tested. Defeat might have worked to keep them honest.

The British & Irish Lions are put through their paces during the captain’s run in Brisbane yesterday.
The British & Irish Lions are put through their paces during the captain’s run in Brisbane yesterday.

Let's be honest, if the British & Irish Lions cannot win this Test series in Australia then they really should think about dumping the whole idea and dropping the tours from the fixture list in future.

Imagine that.

All that tourist revenue from the hordes who follow the Lions overseas. All that sponsorship funding one of the sport's biggest cash cows. The history.

All harpooned because everyone starts to realise the hype is not commensurate with the results? Never going to happen, is it.

But if the Lions do not win this series, it is difficult to see how they will ever win another Test ever again.

Absent Aussies

This Wallabies side are there for the taking. Even history says as much: the touring team have lost only five of the 20 Tests they have played in Australia.

Recent history is an even more compelling guide, namely the past year or so, which has been bleak for Australian rugby.

Injury has deprived the home side of players of the ilk of David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham. They are among the best in the sport, let alone in Australia.

Then there is their uneasy take on team spirit.

When Quade Cooper accuses others of being toxic, you get the sense the pot has just called the kettle black.

With Cooper jettisoned, has Robbie Deans, the coach, been able to cure the ills and find himself a functioning, harmonious team? Who knows.

While the Lions have been undergoing six warm-up events of differing value, the Wallabies have been conspicuous by their absence from the playing field.

Victory in defeat

The Lions had their pride dented by losing their undefeated record on tour when the Brumbies defeated them 14-12 in Canberra on Tuesday, but it may have been a blessing.

They had been moseying on with such efficiency at that point, they might have been assuming a false sense of security.

The warm-up matches they have played have ranged from more or less pointless - the Barbarians in Hong Kong, Combined Country in Newcastle - to moderately taxing, as in the unofficial fourth Test against the Reds in Brisbane.

At no point have they played against a set of players who Deans deems worthy of playing for Australia.

As such, while there is value in the matches they have played, they will have been misleading themselves if they think they have been truly tested.

Defeat might have worked to keep them honest.

A point to prove

Sam Warburton, the Lions captain, pointed out this week that not one of his players has been able to tick the "winning Lions box" in their career.

The Lions have not won a Test series for 16 years, so even those who have had previous experience of touring with them have only unsatisfactory memories.

Given the majority of the tour party are Welsh, there is an added incentive.

Despite their rich fund of talented players, Wales were humbled on their tour of Australia last year, despite playing a side that is well short of the standards of its previous incarnations.

Wearing a different hue of red, and with a little bit of help from some classy mates, they will never have a better chance of success in Australia.

International event

Everyone always says a Lions tour is rugby's summit.

Given that a World Cup has been competed for since 1987, it seems a little peculiar that a bilateral series including one hastily assembled scratch side should be regarded as the tops.

It lacks a certain amount of international appeal but, that said, this tour probably has more of a nod to globalization than any that has gone before it.

The New Zealander who coaches the Lions, for example, caused a surprise by naming a New York-born loosehead instead of the New Zealand-born, Wales-raised England prop whose family all played for Tonga.

On the other side of the park, Australia's hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of a Papua New Guinean scrum-half.

This is not exactly the best of Britain versus the Dominions any more.

It still remains the pinnacle, though.

pradley@thenational.ae