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An open letter to TGR Davies CBE, Chairman British and Irish Lions Committee Posted 11 months ago

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Dear Gerald,

In the time worn phrase, this letter is written more in sorrow than anger.

I am the ultimate Lions ‘anorak’. My bookshelf contains Reyburn, McLean, Jenkins, Thomas and should Kirsty Young ever be sufficiently hard up for guests to have me on Desert Island Discs, I will ask for John Reason’s ‘The Unbeaten Lions’ about the 1974 tour.

My first Lions memory is the 9-47 trouncing of Wellington in 1971, when John Williams (as he was then known) opened up from your 25, Gibson handled with the subtle skills unique to him, and moments later you were sprinting into the right corner for one of the great tries. Seven years later Mike Slemen touched down in Potchefstroom after the ball went through twenty-something pairs of hands. And so on via the 1997 Dawson dummy, to Robinson and O’Driscoll at The Gabba in 2001. That is what the word ‘Lions’ conjures for me: rugby the Gods come out to watch.

Where are the artists this time? What brief did your group give the Coach when appointing him? My heart sank when I saw reports of a £100,000 bonus for Warren Gatland if the Lions won the series. No, was my first instinct. Award him a generous bonus if they play the sort of football people will speak of in awed tones forty years from now.

Using Bill McLaren’s wonderful phrase who, in the party announced, can “sense a gap with the instincts of a forest animal”? BO’D certainly, Hogg maybe. But the Cares and Laidlaws miss out to bigger blokes who offer ‘physicality’, bangers ahead of footballers at 12, and the lightest wing is 6’3” and 15 stone ‘on the hoof’. Red slabs of beef indeed. Whither a Gerald or a Shane, much less a Hook or a Wade.

The great game has already passed from contact to collision, a frequently tedious amalgam of Union/League/American football. Big is beautiful. Power and pace.

You, and those around you had – maybe still have – a chance, probably uniquely at the top level of the game, to strike a blow for the sort of rugby thousands of people in these islands grew up loving. The Lions used to be about romance. The big Afrikaner maulers, and the sinewy Kiwi ruckers usually beat us, but we know they admired – envied even – that Kyle and Morgan, O’Reilly and Scotland, Watkins and John and Duckham played the game in a beautiful way they could not.

Has it all become about ‘the brand’?’ Do the men in suits say ‘we must win’ otherwise NTL/Zurich/HSBC won’t pony up the same loot next time around. And bugger the legacy, the contribution to the wider game.

Which leads neatly to my next point. Just as I can’t recall a huge lump wearing no.9 in gold or black – and leaving Robbie Deans aside – can you tell me what Poms have coached Australia/NZ /SA, or are likely to? Quod erat demonstratum.

Henry was the wrong choice in 2001, even if Woodward illustrated in 2005 why he was overlooked four years previously. It should be always be one of our own. Just like Carwyn was plucked from Stradey, there are men from here who could do it perfectly well. Frankly, we are in danger of hearing more rubbish on the difficulties of ‘blending four nations’ and ‘four different playing styles’ than we get every second year on the Ryder Cup captaincy.

I say four nations, but plenty north of Hadrian’s Wall have felt for a while now that it is three and a bit. A friend from Troon has lived in Auckland since 1990. He travelled to Christchurch in 2005 in a black jersey as he felt disconnected from the team.

The amateur era saw a selector from each of the FHU and there were understandable mutterings about horse trading. I know not what part A.R Irvine played this time, but many see two from the Welsh camp and two from the English. Let’s take a peep at their non-international links: Rowntree/Leicester (6), Farrell/Saracens (3), Howley/Cardiff Blues (5), Gatland/ New Zealand (2).

Okay, the last one is tongue in cheek, but many a true word etc. That is 16 out of 37, and you can make your own estimate as to how many are ‘fringe choices’ Even the much lauded McGeechan took five from Northampton in 1997, and the names of Beal and Grayson hardly resonate today.

Matthew Scott qualifies as a ‘footballer’ at inside centre, and his try from that position against Italy in February hinted at an ability to do something his rivals don’t. Whatever reservations may exist on his defence or experience, how much better might he perform between Sexton and O’Driscoll than those beside him that day. Isn’t that what selection for the Lions has traditionally involved?

It may be unrealistic to suggest the jersey should be a reward for contributions rendered, but those running the London Olympics placed much emphasis on youth and legacy. Role models? Were this an England soccer squad, plenty of media noise would follow the inclusion of players banned for cocaine and biting (try googling Luis Suarez).

I am pretty sure that, thirty years from now, Rory Best will be coaching kids on a dark night in Banbridge or Portadown. I wonder where Sean Maitland, not to mention Matt Stevens and Dylan Hartley, will be. Where does Riki Flutey wear his Lions tracksuit these days?

We are tiptoeing around ‘isms’ now, but while Fe’ao Vunipola and Kuli Faletau will be pleased for their sons, as will Alesana and HenryTuilagi for their brother, how much greater that pride were the younger generation to be spearheading the red of Tonga and the blue of Samoa at RWC 2015 as their elders did so nobly and effectively in days gone by.

I met Messrs Dawson and Millar recently, and walked away feeling like I’d had an audience with Gorbachev and Mandela. I have sat across a dinner table from the late John Robins, and devoured his scrapbook from the 1950 tour. I experienced the joys of Athletic Park 1993 and Durban 1997, the frustrations of Lancaster Park 1993 and Pretoria 2009.

People like me, and you know there are plenty of us, consider the jersey (in the words of Max Boyce, I won’t wear it till they pick me) and all things directly connected with it, to be sacred. There is a fear that your Committee, in its role as Custodian, have allowed it to become less so.

This time I have the pleasure of leading a tour group, but at present am agnostic as to whether the Wallabies win. In the greater scheme of things, that may be for the best, struggling as they are against three other vibrant football codes.

Victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan. I felt these concerns deserved an airing now, before the tour’s post-mortem becomes influenced purely by results. You have a reputation for seeing the wider picture, and perhaps being one our last and best hope for preserving so many great traditions which seem – avoidably – to be at stake.

One wonders what consideration they got this time; nobody has told us, but the 37 names read out on that fated Tuesday say quite a lot.

Yours ever,

David Stewart.

Does this Loins squad lack the romance & artistry of squads gone by? Comments below…

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“Andrew Cook – we could be on the verge of examining capitalism in sport” I’m up for it. But I don’t think you really want to know.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

“Vance Broad 8 days ago i was about to suggest moving the goal posts” Naturally, if you get round to doing thinking for a second, narrowing the posts would tend to discourage the percentage penalty game, the one which now so bedevills the scrum. But among all your witty sneers, I still see nothing like a coherent attempt to defy the laws of space and motion. Very wise. Widening the pitch is inevitable eventually, however loud the accountants may scream.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

“Prestwick 8 days ago Oh for all that is holy, can we have ONE discussion that doesn’t degenerate into a “then vs now” debate” Feel free. No obligation for you to stick to the main direction of any topic. You can simply ignore anything you can’t understand like a river round an abandoned shopping trolley.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

i was about to suggest moving the goal posts to the dead ball line to make kicking for goal more difficult but any talk of moving the goal posts might stir things up even more – just kidding!

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago
No Way, I haven’t had such a good chuckle for ages! Nevermind the minutiae of pitch widenng, I suspect from Rob’s frequent references to the profit motive in rugby that we could be on the verge of examining capitalism in sport, and the benefits that it has brought to all aspects of the game.

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England 11 months ago

Oh for all that is holy, can we have ONE discussion that doesn’t degenerate into a “then vs now” debate which covers in atom-level minutiae the effects/non-effects of widening the bl**dy pitch?!

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

Vance Broad 2 days ago Just out of interest, would Rob prefer " I would prefer a pitch that relflected the new levels of fitness and physique and gave the ploayers room for expression. Not a pitch which still caters for the speed and physique of the pre-Boer War player. A time when, as you know, the majority of the people were in a very sad state of maintenance – as the Boer War itself proved. Just out of interest, how long are you prepared to turn a blind eye to the ever-growing injury rate in rugby. How long to you think this relentless pursuit of physical dominance can last? And what are its aims? The only logical one is a team of locks who can run as fast as wings. And that is the end of rugby,

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

" Andrew Cook the turgid dross that was the norm in the seventies and eighties. " As opposed to the cash-fuelled savagery we see today? You choose. It’s just another Strawman argument. Making the pitch bigger would not make the players fatter. You’re getting your cause and effect mixed up again, in the way typical of those trying to get quarts into pint pots. You do know what a pint pot looks like, I assume? As a one-time coarse lock and general back-row nuisance, I know all about the relationship between Time and Space and the damn fly-half getting out of your clutches. And I know that I wouldn’t have made as many tackles if the little bastards had been allowed more room. I would never have caught Clive (Fred) Rees that time, for instance. It’s as simple as one of those wooden block toys for 1 year olds. And not something the RFU has completely overlooked, ordering Dickie Best to look into the matter at one point. And of course it is routine practice for home teams facing notorious speedsters on the wing to narrow the pitch a bit. So don’t try to deny that pitch-width makes no difference. Every child and ape and octopus knows how it works in the real world.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

Just out of interest, would Rob prefer that the professional Rugby Union team that he currently supports (whether it be an international side, regional side or ‘premier’ level club) revert to 1970’s philosophies, practices and fitness levels whilst others embrace 21st century ideals that players, coaches and spectators now want to see in the professional game, i.e. "…. the fittest, fastest, strongest players striving to win a contest of skill, power and strategy (whilst retaining) all of the traditional beauties of the game, individual, unit and team contests, speed of thought and deed, commitment and courage.” – to re-use Andrew’s words.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago
Hi Rob, love it mate, you’re on fire! I spotted the deliberate mistake as well: ‘I notice you don’t use the word skill’, excellent. Nobody wants to see blood and broken bones though, and I suspect that Vance’s comment about the forward pass was made with tongue firmly in cheek. We just want a contest between the best prepared opponents to discover the best teams and I firmly believe that as long as the players have the right attitude to playing the game then it’s far more attractive than the turgid dross that was the norm in the seventies and eighties. We only remember the tip of the iceberg – All Blacks v Barbarians etc- as being wonderful to watch. Just out of interest, are you a small bloke yourself?

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England 11 months ago

“…how about allowing one forward pass per play and reducing the number of players..” I rest my case. Your only argument against widening the pitch is to turn Rugby into playground rugby league. All the rest is just sneering at an age which wasn’t as neurotically obsessed with physical perfection as you seem to be, and when sport was in some perspective, and not the ridiculous war substitute it is now for some. Not a proxy life, with players living out the spectators fantasy of clouting the boss.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

“We want to see the fittest, fastest, strongest players striving to win a contest of skill, power and strategy. All of the traditional beauties of the game, individual, unit and team contests, speed of thought and deed, commitment and courage.” I notice you don’t use the word skill. The ‘traditional beauties of the game’ depended on a traditional ratio of player power to pitch size which does not exist now. All you really want to see is blood and broken bones. A gladiatorial display of power. Not rugby. Mere power is not beautiful, expect to some very strange people in history.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

Hi Vance, of course you’re right. We want to see the fittest, fastest, strongest players striving to win a contest of skill, power and strategy. All of the traditonal beauties of the game, individual, unit and team contests, speed of thought and deed, commitment and courage. When players and coaches want to play rugby it’s still by far and away the most complete all round sporting challenge that you can hope to see.

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England 11 months ago

Here’s an idea, instead of widening the pitch, in an effort to forestall all this kicking ahead for the opposition full back to gather and return or for your own wing to receive, how about allowing one forward pass per play and reducing the number of players and increasing the number of specialist referees to adjudicate on certain aspects of play and creating ‘protection rules’ for pivotal players? Seriously though, hasn’t the game been heading that way for a long time, what with extended stoppages, ‘turn overs’, ‘pockets’, ‘penetration plays’, video replay decisions, ‘yardage’, ‘tackle count’ and (dare I say it) ….professionalism.

The game at top level hasn’t been amateur since Gareth Edwards stopped playing! That’s the difference. Without acclimatisation to 21st Century rugby, the Gareth Edwards and Barry John’s (and Gerald Davies’s) of yesteryear would be the first to admit that they simply would not be able to cope against current international players on their own 1970’s levels of development. The game has moved on just as professional soccer and grid iron football has moved on: club level amateur rugby for fun still exists for amateurs and like Sunday soccer, is far less of a spectator sport: it is tailored more towards enthusiastic participants seeking fun and exercise. Such amateurs mostly regard the off field social activities of the team as being as much a part of the game as playing, regardless of whether they have supporters or not. Paid professionals have a very different attitude and quite right too – just look at the physiques of 21st Century players compared to the fit but (in the main) ‘still a bit podgy’ physiques of 1970’s players! I wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would you for the top team that you support today. Would you really want the top team that you currently support, to return to 1970’s ways?

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago
Hi Rob, I’m interested to see how long you’ll try to cling to this bone! So, even though we understand that it can’t and won’t happen, had you considered that the most immediate effect of a wider pitch, and the extra space that it would create behind the defence, would be an instant increase in the amount of kicking in the game? The territorial approach that has gained favour recently with coaches, would reign supreme. It would become a kick and chase game, not a handling game at all.

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England 11 months ago

“Even if the pitches were ten metres wider… it won’t help the game at all.” Sorry, I missed the reasoning there, because there wasn’t any, just flat contradiction. Followed by the usual redundant platitudes about how kids have to be ‘ingrained’ from birth. This long-overdue measure does not apply to kids level rugby, in case you were worrying. It is for the very big boys, who are getting bigger, faster and nastier every season. However it certainly would influence how many kids took up the game when they saw centres going through defences, and wingers able to use their speed to go around opposition, instead of the routine Ruckby they see now – and with fewer appearances by the stretcher.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago
Even if the pitches were ten metres wider, as long as there are players whose first instinct is to look for contact, who run across the pitch instead of running straight and keeping space outside, and whose attacking alignment is flat, it won’t help the game at all. These skills, and this understanding of the game, should be ingrained in our young players as soon as they start to play so that they become automatic. We know that the size of pitches won’t change, it’s the approach to playing and coaching which needs to evolve and I believe that it is.

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England 11 months ago

All true especially "to have fifteen players who can handle and think and who can put bums on seats. ". But the fact is that creativity and improvisation are limited by human reaction time, which is more or less fixed. You can’t tinker with your involuntary reflexes, unless a race of robot-players is the answer. And for each yard/hour a wing forward gets faster, a number 10 will have less time to make a decision. When the pitch was bigger, in relation to speed and size, there was both time and space for creative inventive play. Players attitudes haven’t degenerated in some way since professionalism. If anything they are more ‘motivated’ than ever. They have to be to survive, which is tragic. The problem is sheer space. And there is absolutely no reason why all the major pitches in the country shouldn’t be widened by ten metres. The effects would be devastating. And the crowds would flock back.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago
The game is continually evolving, the current position won’t last and already shows signs of moving on. I remember watching Wales play Scotland at the old National stadium – the game when Ieuan (Pardon the Sais spellingif it’s wrong!) Evans scored that try, stepping in from his wing past about four attackers. At the time I was stunned by the pace and skill of the game and left the ground in awe. I recently had cause to watch the tape again and I was shocked at how slow the game was! Since the game went professional the players have had the time and science behind them to build size, strength and power and for several years that was enough for the top teams to overwhelm the rest. Now it’s no longer enough. There is an imperative to look for space again, to produce quick ball, to have players who can beat an opponent, to have fifteen players who can handle and think and who can put bums on seats. We’ve got coaches talking about having a Summer game so that their players can throw the ball about and run on firm ground. It all comes down to attitude.

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England 11 months ago

Nice romantic story, a far cry from a game plan to break down modern defences and then exploit the tiny bits a space that result.

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USA 11 months ago

No rant, just maths and historical fact. Attitudes are the responsibility of the player, not some team brain-surgeon. I like my players un-brainwashed, and not crippled in gyms and freezers. I’m sorry, but your Super-race is unachievable. The human body has limits, as does the mind, and testing them to destruction for your amusement is not sport. But musclebound uniformity is inevitable in rugby unless the playing area grows to accomodate the sheer energy it now contains (and confines). The regimentalisation of rugby is a sure way to kill it. And all for the sake of a couple of rows of seats. That’s real Blazer-blinker mentality. Unlike me and Alan Watkins (2000) “In the meantime, here is a simple proposal that I should like to see taken up by someone. It is to make pitches uniform in their dimensions. When I started to go occasionally to football matches at the Vetch Field, Swansea, in the late 1940s, I was struck by the smallness of the pitch and by the claustrophobic atmosphere. Even Stradey Park, Llanelli, appeared by comparison a wide, green expanse.” http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-union/length-and-breadth-too-vital-to-be-left-at-large-636188.html

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago
Love the rant, Rob, and another plug for the welfare state! Bless! It’s all about attitude, Rob. Not bigger pitches OR free school milk! If players are taught from the youngest age groups how to perform the basics well, and to understand how to protect space and not waste it, all will be well in the world, increased physicality or no. Oh, and by the way, I think you mean the pitch was effectively bigger, in the seventies because players were slower, and it’s maths, with an ‘s’.

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England 11 months ago

“I’m not sure how many inner city urchins raised on the welfare state have ever represented their country on the rugby field!” Without the postwar welfare state, most of the postwar players would have been the size and shape of pre-war players. I don’t think that’s too tricky for you to grasp, is it? And nobody mentioned ‘genetics’ escept you. I thionk you’re a bit confused. Try reading my post again, looking carefully for any reference, however oblique, to genetic causes for the 70’s ‘golden age’. Players are already coached to death and you want more. What they need is more space. The simple laws of mathematics demand it. You cannot put a quart into a pint pot, which is what we are doing now, and the ever-growing injury list is the price. Meanwhile, someone is making serious money at no risk to flesh and bone. It’s doubtful whether rugby can survive another decade at this rate of increased physicality without doing the obvious thing and increasing the width of the pitch. It is the only common sense solution. More training More coaching More collisions, More midfield congestion, More refereeing confusion will simply drive crowds away ( except for the drooling sadists) and deter young players at the start of their careers. They will simply go elsewhere, especially the traditional ‘creatives’. The pitch was effectively smaller in the 70’s because players in general but forwards in particular were slower – and smaller. Can’t you understand the math?

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

Absolutely priceless Rob, but I’m not sure how many inner city urchins raised on the welfare state have ever represented their country on the rugby field! Being a ‘territory machine’, and looking for contact rather than space is a matter of attitude, not genetics. What we need is better coaching from a younger age so that good habits are ingrained. There are too many players at the top of the game who couldn’t put a three man overlap away if the pitch was fifty yards wider, never mind ten! Fast ball, pace, depth and competent, confident handling is what’s required. The very best players (eg the ones in Black) can do it, it’s all about attitude. The players of any era compete against opponents who enjoy a comparable level of speed, strength and fitness. The physical challenges of the seventies were the same as today’s players experience, the difference was the men on the pitch had more freedom to play the game that they wanted to play.

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England 11 months ago

Rugby in and around 1971 was the result of improved physical condition across society caused by the welfare state (thank you Aneurin Bevan) and the fact that players were still slow and small enough to make best use of the existing pitch dimensions. Due to over-development in size and speed, the pitch is now effectively smaller than ever. Creative playmakers now have far less time to react. And so impact rugby has taken over, with predictable effects on injury figures. The Barry Johns of today are turned into territory machines rather than line-breakers. There is literally no room for them. It’s blind-side wing-forwardly simple, make the pitch wider and open creative rugby will return. The RFU has tinkered with all sorts of other laws in the name of openness, but not one of the oldest laws of all. 10 yards should do it. About a row of seats each side, which are normally empty at the back anyway.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago
Are we really going to accept that the sight of Tuilagi, North or Bowe in full flight isn’t as thrilling as watching the players of yesteryear who lacked the pace, power and the fearsome defensive opponents of today’s players. Did O’Driscoll’s off load to (was it?) Zebo in the recent six nations match against Wales somehow suffer in comparison with similar plays from times gone by? Farrell’s beautifully weighted pass to lock forward Parling galloping to the line wide out negated by modern physicality? What about Hogg or Halfpenny at full back? No behemoths there! Instead of making fatuous and impossible comparisons between different eras let’s just enjoy what’s on offer. The poetry of the modern game is more visceral than the ethereal lines of times past, but it can still reach out and move the soul.

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England 11 months ago

Exactly right Vance! The idea that Carwyn’s influence/methods could be in anyway be interpreted as thuggery is at best misguided at worst…well libel laws stop me! He is a massive influence on anyone who likes to THINK about the game and at the risk of sounding like a sycophant IMO Wayne Smith is the only coach since who displays similar characteristics! Carwyn’s ablity with the Lions not only led to a series win but also led to him guiding LLanelli to their win over the the ABs in in ’72! Who since has such a record and more importantly shown the insight, empathy for players and tactical understanding that he did?

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Australia 11 months ago

Lions 1959 – how times have moved on http://www.sportlive.co.za/rugby/morerugby/2012/10/22/all-blacks-great-whineray-dies-aged-77

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Ireland 11 months ago

I believe Carwyn James was misquoted in his team talk to the 1971 Lions in that it is reported that he actually used the word retaliation NOT intimidation. However, the main thing about the 1971 Lions is that Carwyn James gave the Lions strategies to ‘front up’ and in matching the opposition’s brutality, they gained the follow on freedom to express themselves: if something new and creative the Lions tried didn’t go right, Carwyn James gave them the confidence to do it again until it did – he knew what was needed and he was a born motivator.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

It has always been about winning first – ask Clive Rowlands. How you win comes down to what resources are available and to making the most of those resources. Nobody plays to lose and the old maxim “It’s not the winning its the taking part” belongs where it began – on the Nineteenth Century playing fields of yesterday’s public schools. Has anyone noticed yet – this IS the Twenty First Century! ….and as for Carwyn James “If you want to win, get your intimidation in first!” was not very sporting but it was bloody good advice and just right for the moment. “Ninety Nine!”

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

A fantastic piece there which harks back to yesteryears rugby heritage. Einstein once said “memory is deceptive as it is coloured by todays events” and this is a prime example of that. Rugby in years gone by simply would not stand up to the current environment and as much as we all love how the game used to be played, it isn’t played like that anymore nor will it be in the future. I sincerly hope that the Adam Jones, Shane Williams, Ritchie Grays and Christian Wades are always able to play rugby but the power game is here to stay. I love the Lions, what they stand for, everything about them, but I would rather watch them be competitive and ideally win, than turn up, throw the ball around willy-nilly and get thumped out of sight. We need the best coaches available to deliver the best prepared team and to give the SH teams the best test they can get

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

Born in ‘66, first Lion memory ’74 tour, walking down to Felinfoel on my Grandfather’s (Dadcu’s) shoulders to see Phil Bennett’s return. As for the rest of it I think you have rose tinted on buddy! Confusing BaaBaa’s with Lions! I have always wanted Lions to win, period – we were lucky enough to grow up in an era where we saw some amazing things! But Bennett’s ‘77 Lions were 2 kicks away from winning the series but not through amazing rugby – Bennett and Irvine failed to consecutively find touch! ’89 was hardly uplifting other than having a laugh at Campo and Aussies trying to blame Lions for the biff – takes 2 to punch on! Nothing much uplifting in the main (save ’97 and we played no rugby), especially results – but the men, now that’s something else! Huge men who truly understood the game, its values and what it can deliver to the common man and this mob will be the same – even though 1 or 2 will bring a more exotic blend than in the past! Some other points: Carwyn was the 1st ’pro’ coach and would have devised the best strategy according to his players and his analysis of the opposition, not romance – just look at the Scarlets win over the ABs in ‘72 – masterful! Carwyn = W Smith If we want artists in our team, fine, but we have to accept that we will also concede loads of points and work on the basis we will have to score more than them – not a philosophy that sits well with professional coaches who have resumes and future jobs to apply for! NZ/Aussie responsible for the move to ’open’ professionalism! You must have heard the stories about SJK and Campo prior to ‘87/’91! It’s just they couldn’t find or make a big lump to put in a 9 shirt – although NFJ is hardly small! Little demeaning and simplistic in regard to Phillips! Henry wrong choice? By his own admission he got stuff wrong, however, the Lions were let down by appalling and treacherous off field behaviour by immature ‘chaps’ – and they were ‘home grown’ – I imagine many of us will never forgive them and feel that this was the greatest injury inflicted on the ‘sacred jersey’! After a deflating tour when the ‘brand’ was damaged (actions of 2 players and a journo) it was made a laughing stock in ‘05 by another couple of Poms: 1 coach, 1 New Labour – sorry! Scots! Like everyone else got to earn the shirt regardless! They’ve had a bad time of it. Matthew Scott – really? I thought he ran 40m very well after others put him away – not enough really and a Lions tour is not a time to work on ‘what if he played with…’. Too many Boyos this time – probably not! But I think he’s picked the wrong ones! Could argue for another 4 or 5! I empathize, but times have changed (not necessarily for the better!). Lions will roar as always (Lions = all of us and not just players) I am going to roar like I did for my heroes before: Carwyn, Phil, Derek, all Llanelli men (Gerald first played for Llanelli!), all Boyos, boys from the 4 proud provinces of Ireland, the Low and Highlands, Northerner, Midlander, West Country lad and soft Southern Home County chap! Rip in boys, they are nervous down here!

Happy to have your tickets if you don’t feel up to cheering the Lions on, but don’t want to sit near your group if they feel as you do!

Ymlaen Birtish a’r Llewod Irisha

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Australia 11 months ago

I’m English but I too feel very concerned that the trend these days is for Lions coaches to opt for “insert Six Nations winning nation/nation that you currently/used to coach + extras”. Woodward was guilty of this with England and Gatland is guilty of this with Wales.

And when I say I’m English, relax chaps, I’m a realist in thinking we’re lucky to have 10 Englishmen in the Lions squad. Not tapping Robshaw is justified (especially after he’s just literally physically broken down after a tough near constant 18 months at the pump).

But the selection needed to be smarter. Kelly Brown has had a hell of a year as has Tim Visser, Simon Zebo, Care, Earls, Laidlaw, etc and yet Gatland almost seems obsessed in trying to get his ideal Wales squad + some tweaks to correct its faults over to Australia to banish the last seven times the Wallabies have beaten Wales?

If that is wrong and Gatland has genuinely tried to pick the best squad he thinks will win down under then I apologise and hope he’s right but one simply can’t help but get the feeling that he’s haunted by the fact that a Wales squad he has invested immense emotional capital in hasn’t managed to beat what is essentially his bogey team. Whether he likes it or not that ominous “7 and 0” will hang over most of this Lions squad until they get down there and kick some Wallaby arse!

Heres to an excellent series! I for one will gleefully admit I was wrong if Gatland and co pull this off!

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

Wonderful stuff and a predictable response on behalf of the professional era but the simple truth is that this squad is a very blunt instrument which can and will only play in one way and if plan A fails the Lions will lose. The non inclusion of Best is a complete mystery to me as he was the best hooker in the 6 nations by a country mile and the failure to include a scrum half like Laidlaw or Care or a fly half like Flood means that when games start to open out or if the battering rams do not work the best that can be offered is a new battering ram. A basher and a footballer works well for me in the centre but we seem destined to see two bashers with another on the bench. I fear that BOD is destined for the midweek captaincy role but hope that I am wrong. Please don’t get me on the subject of Stevens who has been ripped apart in the last few games that he has played for England and was not even in the England 6 nations squad and was not good enough to be in it. Who did Ross upset? No variety or subtlety on wings apart from Bowe who is just back from injury so no room for Zebo or Visser who were impressive in 6 nations but overlooked in favour of brawn. Hook and Brown ought to have had a shout because they would have offered subtlety and flexibility. I don’t want the Lions to be just like the Barbarians and I do want them to win. My fear is that this one dimensional squad has been picked to play a style of Rugby which will not only be dull to watch but will also be easily countered. Very sad about it all.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland 11 months ago

Crikey its very much a mills and bloom novel for me to much romance not enough action as a fellow Welshman in exile by choice down under the lions are here as proffesional rugby players not tourists to do the business is the ultimate and win the series v the wallabies

We all love a open match deep down in our hearts with a try feast to enjoy but let’s not Kid ourselves the performances of the lions and wallaby players head to head will be all about winning the series

As for Sir Graham and Sir Clive , Mr Gatland wouldn’t care if he received the order of the garter as long as he and his coaching staff take the spoils of war and re write the Lions record books with a winning series.

So bring on the good the bad and the ugly and look forward to a super rugby clash of the best players on the world stage in Uk and Oz where rugby is allways the winner because without rugby personally would not have any clothes in my wardrobe or as many mates without face book can’t wait enough about the romance and non british coaches etc we all know about the history so let the series begin and enjoy the game they play in heaven that will do me boyos

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Australia 11 months ago

David, what a great story and am so proud to hear that you hold my father, Ronnie, (and Syd) to the same levels a la Mandela. My humble opinion may count for nothing however, I too also believe in the ‘romance’ of the Lions but, in today’s commercial world, unfortunately results and delivery may overcome. Certainly the sponsorship wallet has made the tour ‘a bit of a gig’ and I can only hope that all those selected wear the jersey with pride and acknowledge the heritage of the Lions. It is a very special accolade which I have treasured (through association) all my life. Here’s to enjoying some entertaining rugby ….

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Ireland 11 months ago

David, what a heart wrenching story. The romance of the past smashes headlong into the twittersphere of the twenty first century. I have Ben on 3 Lions tours and only witnessed 2 test victories………I hear you, I sympathise even, I am a Welshman and love open play ( who actually doesn’t?). To mix brawn and brain is the ultimate goal……but, we need a series win first and foremost. Much of rugby had changed, God bless the Barbarians, the franchise is unique in modern day professional sport….but in this professional era, pragmatism wins……

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Monaco 11 months ago

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