In the aftermath of the Lions tour we have just experienced, heralded as one for the ages for Australian rugby, I’ve been left wondering, do we even care? It is a massive sign of respect for Southern Hemisphere rugby that the giants of the north band together in a “super team” every four years to try to beat us, but personally I would prefer to see an ANZAC team head over to the British Isles. In saying this though, every twelve years when the Lions do land upon our shores, rugby in Australia does receive a boost, akin to the 2003 World Cup, which can only be good for our sport.
For a series that promised so much free running rugby; two New Zealand coaches facing off, a series beginning with a game against the Barbarians, hyped up talk of a running based Lions and a glimmer of hope from the Australian provinces; the rugby watching public were left severely disappointed. The Australian backline couldn’t have spelt the word “attack” if it were a second grade spelling bee and the touring Lions won on the boot of their Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny. I am in no way taking away from the incredible effort of Halfpenny to only miss a handful of kicks all tour, a truly inspiring effort, but such a tour should not be heralded as a best yet when apart from the second half of the final game, the difference was how good two men out of thirty on a field could kick a ball through posts at varying distances and angles.
I am not denying that to play the Lions as a rugby player would be up there with highlights in your career, as any professional player would attest. However when, with the exception of the Brumbies and to an extent the Reds, a superior side decimated the Australian provinces and once-off teams, the benefits must be considered.
Take for example the Western Force, the first Aussie side to face the tourists. The Force played the Lions on the Wednesday, and even in a brave display went down 69-17. Four days later the Force fronted up to the Waratahs and once again were defeated 28-13. And all that fans got to see were internationals running over provincial teams in a result as obvious as death and taxes. In saying this, the Brumbies stood up and shook the status quo being the victors 14-12 in a display that left all Aussie rugby fans jumping and yelling for joy in pubs and lounge rooms around the world. This was the first time since 1997 that a Lions side have lost to a provincial side, and the Brumbies should be well and truly proud of themselves.
As much as I have been left with this feeling of ambivalence towards the Lions, I can never see the tours stopping. The Lions coming is too much of a cash cow for the ARU coffers and the Australian economy. An estimated 30,000 plus Britons followed the tour to Australia, bringing an estimated $137.64 million into the Australian economy. Money made through advertising, merchandise, tickets and anything associated with the tour is too enticing for a country to deny, and even though I might not care about the Lions, the big wigs do. Give me a Bledisloe series any day.