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Thread: Is this the last Lions tour of Australia?

  1. #1
    Veteran Sheikh's Avatar
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    Is this the last Lions tour of Australia?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013...wn-rugby-union

    Lions struggle to stay relevant in a game designed without them in mind
    Despite their commercial success, the timing of Lions tours has become a real headache for clubs and national sides

    The Lions have two more tours before the agreement they have with the three Sanzar nations will be renegotiated. Argentina will enter the argument as a member of the Rugby Championship, but at the core of the talks lies the question of whether a tour of the four home unions can be neatly fitted in to a schedule that has very little slack.

    With the expansion of the Super 15 and the Rugby Championship replacing the Tri-Nations, the southern hemisphere schedule is no longer broken into the different blocks that it once was, with one leading to the next.

    Australia will be starting their Super 15 programme early to accommodate the Lions and so concerned are New Zealand about the proliferation of Test matches, mindful of last December's loss to England, that they are ready to turn down the offer of a 1.5m payday to play Wales in a fourth international this autumn and take on the Barbarians instead.

    The Lions are one of the game's commercial success stories. The Australian Rugby Union will use the profits it makes this summer to sustain its game over a period of years, much like the International Rugby Board does with World Cups. The four home unions themselves will each bank a couple of millions pounds, at least, despite increasing costs, not least to players and the clubs that release them.

    None of the seven unions involved wants the Lions to fold, but are they doing enough to preserve the institution? The first match of this year's tour, in Hong Kong, takes place one week after the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect Pro 12 play-off finals and a fortnight after the two European finals.

    The Lions, who have not won a Test series since 1997, will have little preparation time and when they do arrive in Australia, they will find, as they did in South Africa four years ago, that the warm-up matches will not see the opposition at full-strength.

    The Australia coach, Robbie Deans, has said he wants to organise an extended training camp for the Wallabies' squad, starting on the day the Lions are in Hong Kong. It would mean that the Super 15 teams who are facing the Lions in the buildup to the first Test on 22 June would be without their international players unless Deans decided to release any.

    It would also mean Wallabies missing Super 15 rounds for their franchises and a number of coaches, led by the Reds' Ewen McKenzie, have protested to the ARU, who said that no final decision had been taken. "Most businesses don't keep all their eggs in one basket," said McKenzie.

    The Reds, who face the Lions on 8 June, had hoped to attract a 52,000 sell-out crowd to Suncorp Stadium and are concerned that fielding a weakened team would depress the demand for tickets, something South African sides found in 2009 when the Lions warmed up for the Test series against some distinctly mediocre opposition and started the first Test in Durban slowly.

    A concern for Deans is that Australia do not have a warm-up Test and on 22 June will be playing their first international for more than six months. He wants to maximise the time with his players in the weeks before, as South Africa's Peter de Villiers did in 2009.

    It will be a pivotal few weeks for Deans, whose hopes of keeping his job after his contract runs out in July hinge significantly on the outcome of the Test series. He has already been told that he will have to reapply for the post and losing to the Lions would signal his probable return to New Zealand.

    What should be a highlight of the rugby calendar, and something that is hugely popular with the paying public, is haphazardly organised, size 10 feet being squeezed into size eight shoes. The home unions, England especially, are reliant on the goodwill of clubs and regions who, losing their leading players for three months of the season, are not surprisingly unwilling to curtail a season every four years to suit the Lions.

    Nor can the three Sanzar unions, all of which need to increase their income, clear a path for the Lions and when they sit down with the four home unions to discuss how the tours will look after 2017, they will need to consider radical ways of organising the trips if they are not to be seen to be taking travelling fans for granted.

    The Lions have talked about putting back the tour by one or two weeks, but that could impact on the Rugby Championship which, in turn, could affect the European tours by the southern hemisphere nations. A later start would mean a later return for the Lions players, making them unavailable for the start of the league programmes.

    At the moment, the latter is no hardship for the Irish and Scots, but if the English and French clubs succeed in their attempt to make qualification for the Heineken Cup more meritocratic, their league teams could be fielding weakened sides in a way they do not now.

    And then there are the French. The Top 14 final is this year being played on the day the Lions start their tour in Hong Kong and the league starts in the middle of August. Securing the release of players based there could become more difficult if the start of a tour were put back.

    A problem for the Lions is that, despite their commercial success, they are not masters of their own destiny. They are reliant on various stakeholders, to use the modern parlance, and each tour they seem to be squeezed more, despite the premium players place on selection and their popularity with supporters.

    Will that popularity survive two more unsuccessful tours? The Lions are unique in the modern game because they go on long tours with midweek matches, building up to the start of a Test series, rather than playing the first one within a week of arriving.

    It is that uniqueness that is undermining them because the playing structure, a word that should be loosely applied, is not designed with them in mind. The Lions were not expected to survive the end of the amateur era, never mind thrive, but the terms of the new agreement will go a long way to determining whether success on the field will be able to go some way to matching that off it.

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    Legend Contributor Alison's Avatar
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    I really really really hope not!! Lions tours are right up there with the RWC for those of us brought up in the UK! But, with the game growing worldwide, I can see the argument for it losing relevance

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    The Lions won't be canned it is the greatest honour that can be bestowed upon a player from the UK.

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    Veteran TOCC's Avatar
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    honour a has diluted meaning in professional rugby.....

    I don think they will be canned, they are a commercial success as mentioned in the article...

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    Immortal jargan83's Avatar
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    And is this day an age of the bottom line meaning everything while they are a commercial success the tours will be continued

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    Legend Contributor slomo's Avatar
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    It won't be canned, but I doubt the argentina tour will be added to the current rotation, too much political tension over the falkland islands...
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    Don't think the Welsh, Irish or Scots give a hoot about the Falklands.

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    Legend Contributor slomo's Avatar
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    Couldn't be further from the truth, scots guards and welsh guards were heavily envoled with the falklands conflict, simon weston was the public face of casualities during the battle and he's welsh!....
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    Agreed, the Gurkhas also fought there but Falklands is an outpost of England not Nepal, Wales or Scotland. Still though if a Lions tour to Argentina ever came to fruition it would spread future lions tours to ourselves out to 16 years between drinks.

    The Lions should remain just SA, N.Z. and Australia.

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