The 12 things every armchair fan of the British & Irish Lions needs to know
The British & Irish Lions are taking on the greatest rugby nation on the planet. eric gives you a bit of a rundown on the key things you need to know…
- 01Statistically, the Lions don’t have a chanceThe romantic says they can win the series in New Zealand, but statistics disagree. They have only won one series EVER against the All Blacks. And they’ve only managed two Test wins since that solitary series win in 1971, that’s from 12 matches. Overall, their win rate against the All Blacks is just 17%. That’s six wins out of 29 games, dating back to 1904 – the 1888 tour didn’t feature the All Blacks (or New Zealand, as they were then). Most have All Blacks at 1/5 for a Series win The Lions 7/2 at best.
- 02A Super Rugby side will probably get a win tooThe Blues are the first Super Rugby side up, and while they’re not the best of New Zealand’s regional sides, their provincial side Auckland have beaten the Lions an incredible six times. Otago’s win rate is 45% (five wins), Canterbury 33% (four wins) and even Wanganui-King Country have 33%, but they’ve only played them three times. The point is, don’t be surprised if the Lions lose outside of the Tests. Wales lost to Chiefs only last year.
- 03Even Gatland knows how to beat the LionsThe British & Irish Lions New Zealand-born coach Warren Gatland knows how much the non-Test sides are going to be up for facing the Lions. He’s done it himself, when playing for Waikato in 1993. They destroyed the Lions 38-10. Former England coach John Mitchell was the New Zealanders’ captain that day.
- 04The winner of each match gets a weaponIt’s not just pride at stake, the winning side in each game will be presented with a specially-made taiaha, a traditional Maori weapon. There’s a different one for each match and it’s already been presented to the host town or city ahead of the match. If you catch the pre-match action, you’ll see it put forward in a ceremony beforehand.
- 05The Lions have a lot of ballsLiterally. Their official training ball supplier, Rhino, have supplied them with 150 to play with (not to mention three scrum machines and a lot of tackling pads). So even if Owen Farrell kicks loads them over the fence and the mean neighbour won’t give it back, they’ve got lots left. What’s more, Rhino have also created a wide range of supporter balls in every size and colour, you could ever want. We love the minis, they’re only £7.95 too. (rhino.direct)
- 06The Maori All Blacks are basically a Test sideThere’s a theme developing, we know. But the Maori All Blacks are going to have a brilliant side and in 2005, they beat the Lions. Previous Maori All Blacks sides have included the likes of Carlos Spencer, Zinzan Brooke and even Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford - the guy who, legend has it, ripped his scrotum during a game, got it sewn back up, and played on. And the current side is unbeaten in 20 matches against full Test sides.
- 07There’s a British & Irish Lions choirFirst day into camp, and the early attendees – including the likes of Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Rory Best and Toby Faletau – were put to choir practice as the Lions intend to charm their way around New Zealand, with their vocal talents being a weapon of choice. Greig Laidlaw was an early star singer.
- 08Two of the coaches have been on FIVE Lions toursWelsh coaches, Neil Jenkins and Rob Howley, are the ultimate British & Irish Lions tourists. As players they were both selected for two tours (1997 to South Africa and 2001 to Australia) and then, together again, they have been coaches on three tours (2009, 2013 and 2017).
- 09It’s not just 15 v 15Modern sport is such that it’s never about 15 players on the pitch, or the eight guys on the bench, or the six coaches. In 2005 Clive Woodward pretty much took most of the Britain and Ireland with him and still lost the series 3-0. This time, the Lions have a support staff of around 36, with a playing squad of 41. That said, this is a tough tour, so they will need this and, possibly more, players. In fairness, the All Blacks have about 45 million on their side.
- 10Beauden Barrett’s dad knows how to ‘breed’ All BlacksThe All Blacks fly-half (or first five-eighth, if you’re a Kiwi) is a genius, the official best player in the world. His brother Jordie toured with the All Blacks last year; another brother, Scott, played for the All Blacks in 2016; and another brother, Kane, played for the Blues. Their dad, Kevin, apparently finished playing rugby, stating he was ‘gonna go and breed some All Blacks’. Fair play, he has, along with FIVE other children – five boys and three girls in total. Eight children.
- 11But they could win…Yes, stats are against them, and they may lose to any one/all of the Super Rugby sides, and the Maori All Blacks too, but just look at the talent in the squad. And the fact England have been pretty good of late, Ireland beat the All Blacks, Scotland haven’t looked as bad as normal and Wales, well, they’ve been alright too. If Gatland can build a squad in six games (ahead of the first Test), they have the players to win. The best chance since 1971 for sure, and definitely the best squad too.
- 12Oh, and there’s this really good guide to it allIt’s got pretty much everything you need to know, the opponents, interviews with Lions and All Blacks, the coaches, lots of stats and facts AND a free poster, which is great if you’re a rugby-mad kid, even better if you’re a rugby-mad adult trying to get all your work colleagues as excited as you. It’s in all good newsstands, in the UK and New Zealand.
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