Thursday, January 21

Time to put self-interest aside and find a solution to save Lions | British and Irish lions


RTruly if ever rugby has been in greater need of a silver bullet to solve all its problems. As older readers will recall that was once the Lone Ranger’s trademark along with the usual use of a mask to conceal its identity. How Rugby’s Covid-19 Threatened Administrators would love for a modern face-covered savior to appear out of nowhere And rescue their sport from looming oblivion.

The mundane reality sadly is that unions clubs television executives And patrons can no longer act in isolation. Even if the British & Irish Lions somehow manage to unearth a viable solution that will preserve their scheduled tour of South Africa this summer it is unlikely to satisfy everyone. What works for one party is invariably what someone else cannot start.

So with the virus displaying all the tenacity of a back row forward with a lingering grudge this is no time for self-interest. If Lions pride endures for decades it will only be because leading unions clubs And all other stakeholders are working together to protect it. Anything less than a genuine collective effort And the entire glorious concept could be permanently compromised.

Take for example the idea that the Lions tour given rising infection rates And uncertainty surrounding traveling fans could simply be delayed a year to 2022. Even for the host nation that would be less than ideal. with the defense of their World Cup title in 2023 on the horizon. For Eddie Jones whose preparations for that tournament are well under way there is absolutely nothing to gain by firing his top 20-odd players to South Africa just as he is looking to unite them into an EnglAnd team capable of beating the world. .

Consequently it will take a brave man to tell Jones to do it for the sake of a team that only turns once every four years or a South African union in dire need of the revenue. Unless Jason Leonard the Lions president can somehow force RFU CEO Bill Sweeney into an old-fashioned arm lock And mutter the final threat: “If we can’t tour you’ll be here drinking with me every night. ” – It’s even harder to see Twickenham subverting his own interests below those of the Lions committee. Money always talks And winning the 2023 World Cup would be worth more to EnglAnd than a Lions series win over the Springboks.

At this point the view from South Africa is worth measuring. Informed sources contacted by The Guardian suggest that if this summer’s incoming tour is not a runner their next preference would be to postpone it until November or the summer of 2022. That however would require World Rugby to dive headfirst into the argument. And breaking up a world tour program that has already been widely publicized. Would you like to go to IrelAnd to New ZealAnd for a series of three tests without your best players? No possibility.

The next line on the wish list would be to move the entire “tour” to Great Britain And IrelAnd a perfectly good idea in theory but one that is also heavily dependent on the presence of spectators. There would also be a number of other problems. Would a series of Lions feel remotely like the same beast if it took place at home? Who exactly would supply the mid-week opposition with all the major European clubs on vacation? With the Euros Wimbledon the Golf Open And the Olympics already on the agenda would it perversely end up damaging the special aura that makes the Lions so wonderfully different?

The absolute last resort it seems would be to play the games in South Africa without fans. For anyone who’s ever been on a Lions tour it’s the bleakest setting of all. What good are Lions if not a parade of human enjoyment a catalyst for camaraderie And the bringing together of four nations on And off the field? If there is any sporting event on earth less suited to being played in a soulless bubble it is a winner-take-all series involving the Books And Lions.

 Maro Stone looks to make a dent in New ZealAnd's defense at Eden Park in 2017
Maro Stone is looking to make a dent in New ZealAnd’s defense at Eden Park in 2017. Photograph: David Rogers / Getty Images

There are no real signs then of a silver bullet particularly when Northern Hemisphere officials are pushing for an early decision. On the contrary there are those who believe that infection rates in South Africa are destined to fall in a matter of weeks. If on the other hAnd this year’s Lions tour were called off now it could allow the Six Nations to be delayed And played with crowds in July And August. It’s not ideal clearly with so many other sports around but it’s better than another championship echo chamber. Having a Six Nations championship played partially behind closed doors in 2020 was bad enough for rugby’s coffers. Having another full tournament played in silence would be ruinous.

It would surely be more sensible to take a longer-term view. If South Africa cannot host this Lions tour they could be guaranteed the next edition in 2025 before Australia. If the touring team were to step aside this summer the blow could also be eased with the firm promise of additional preparation time And a proper 10-game schedule next time. After an eight-year hiatus the appetite for the returning Lions would be enormous their value more appreciated than ever. By then too people might have started to forget the bleak winter of 2020-21 the heavy price it charged And the money-driven masquerade that test rugby almost became.

Distance bombs

Among the most welcome events of the past 12 months is the return of an old friend. Last February the sensational 90-meter torpedo kick by French side Anthony Mouthier dubbed the “Spiral Going Viral” was one of the highlights of the 2020 Six Nations. On Sunday it was Leicester’s George Ford’s turn to showcase the vertical spiral bomb an old favorite. Inspired by Dave Aired that sinks And fades as he descends from the clouds. Poor Anthony Watson could barely get a hAnd on the ball And the Tigers were victorious. People often complain that there are too many kicks in rugby – what they generally mean is that there are too many poor kicks. A big kick on the other hAnd is still a
beauty thing.

One to look at

Last weekend lightning struck twice. Leinster And Exeter both recently immune to defeat managed to lose on the same day And the Irish province suffered its first Pro14 setback in 27 home games to Connacht. If something similar happened this week at the home of Ulster And Bristol respectively it would really be a shock to the established order. However on the basis that the form is temporary And the class permanent it would be wise not to bet on another unlikely double.

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www.theguardian.com

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