No definitive view would be held here on the concept of the Lions. Of course, it smacks of a bit of an ‘us against the world’ situation. And a bit of a siege mentality is sometimes not a bad thing in sport. Just ask Sir Alex Ferguson, Ger Loughnane or any GAA team up the top of the country.
In an ideal world – whatever that is – everything would be equal. It’s not like that, though, which, strange as it may seem, is just as well for sport. Dublin may be well ahead of the pack in Gaelic football, as are Leinster in rugby. So too Ronnie O’Sullivan in the world of snooker. One of the great driving forces in sport, constantly, is trying to bridge the gap. Or better still, eliminate it altogether.
In rugby terms, doing so has become the remit of the British and Irish Lions. While it might be unpalatable to some, the fact is that the best teams on this side of the world are still a fair bit behind the big triumvirate of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. So much so that the best chance of bettering them lies with a combination of the best from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. Even that hasn’t happened for a good while, mind you.
Picking any team or squad involving multiple entities is always going to leave a fair carcass of contention. In the most recent instance, it’s difficult not to feel that Warren Gatland may have been a little over generous to his current territory. Right, so Wales reigned supreme in these parts, but 15 representatives looks a tad excessive. As, for that matter, does 13 Irish in the original party.
Circumstance has, admittedly, catapulted Rory Best and Simon Zebo to the other side of the world in the interim. Both should have been originally included anyway. At the expense of some of the other Irish? Maybe.
Anyway, what actually transpired was that, while operations were beginning to gather pace Down Under, Zebo was among a squad of players charged with beginning the post Declan Kidney era in green jerseys. Two sizable contingents of Irish players, in different worlds in terms of where they’re at on the international rugby stage. Each striving for the same place however.
Now, whatever about questioning the worth of the Lions and all they entail. You’d have to wonder what, if any, benefit could come from a tour to America at this time of the year. It may well be the only time of year such an excursion though what’s to be gained from it is difficult to fathom.
Putting players – already at the end of a long season with provinces and the national team – out against opposition at least one level below them and in daft levels of heat and humidity, defies logic. What it certainly wouldn’t do, however, is afford newcomers the opportunity to showcase themselves in the best possible light to new coach Joe Schmidt as he observes things for the first time in his new capacity.
When all the mitigating factors are put together, it seems hardly surprising that the tourists struggled to a 15-12 win after a dour contest that basically turned into a kicking competition between Ian Madigan and the opposing fly half. As bad as that was, whatever chance there was of open, expansive rugby was stymied by constant messing at scrums. That ugliness is now the bane of the game.
For all that, some morsels of positivity would have to be take from the exercise too. Foremost among which would have to be how seamlessly Ian Madigan assumed the mantle at 10. That, and the displays of Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony and Fergus McFadden. From a local perspective, it was particularly good to see Devin do well when given the chance.
The Moynalvey native has had to do plenty of waiting due to the depth of talent that abounds in his position, both in Leinster camp and the Ireland setup. He acquitted himself very well when afforded the opportunity and, more importantly, he was able to shake off a knock received from what looked a very dangerous tackle.
At a time like this, one is reminded of Sean Boylan beginning his tenure as Meath boss with a tournament win in Longford, or Johann Zoffany being Joseph O’Brien’s first winner, or Benbecula being Johnny Murtagh’s first as a trainer. In time, the game against the USA won’t be that noteworthy, but every new era has to start somewhere.
It’ll be the autumn clashes with the big guns that’s really ascertain exactly what Schmidt has inherited.