Later today 41 players from four different nations will board a plane from London to the other side of the world, down under to New Zealand, for the start of the Lions tour. Six intense weeks and ten grueling games await them, in a crazy schedule which has been derided by many pundits.
The former New Zealand World Cup winning coach, Graham Henry, has been a particularly vocal critic of the schedule labelling it ‘suicidal’. Going on to elaborate Henry said; “It is certainly the most difficult itinerary in the history of the game. I don’t know who arranges these things but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a coach or a player.”
Henry’s comments highlight a point made by critics time and again that the tour and professional game are being driven more by commercial interests than care for player welfare. This criticism has come up time and time again in recent years as World Rugby has been looking into changing the current system by attempting to establish a global calendar.
But try speaking to any of the players about fixture congestion and they’ll brush off any concerns. When questioned about players experiencing a dip in form following the end of a gruelling domestic season, Saracens and England hooker Jamie George responded; “A Lions tour gives you an increase in energy. Your body feeling a bit battered does not come into it as you are excited about the tour ahead.” Clearly for the players it’s going to be mind over matter.
Yes some players like George North, Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly will be limping onto the plane after this weekend’s exertions, but after that first in flight meal and miniature bottle of wine they’ll be in the swing of it, on the most historic tour of all. Hopefully JG is right and this psychological boost will be enough to get the players through the grueling schedule.
The first game is on Saturday night against a tricky Provincial Union XV. Come what may don’t expect any excuses from the players after about jet lag…