Analysis: Nationally lopsided British & Irish Lions selections are nothing new. So there.

I despise those who small-mindedly total up the number of players from each nationality in a Lions line-up; it defeats the object of what the British & Irish Lions are all about and it leads people to make pointless, infuriating and irrelevant arguments that have nothing to do with winning a rugby game.

However, the opprobrium that Warren Gatland has received in both the regular and social media has led me to spend a great deal of time doing that very thing I despise to make a point, because there’s nothing this blog won’t do to win an argument.

Looking back over every tour since 1971 (yes, I’m that stubborn) proves that selecting large number of players from one nation is very common, is usually linked to the most successful home nation at the time (as Wales are now), and certainly does not “disrespect the ethos of the Lions”.

The SEVENTIES.

Ah the seventies, everything was shades of brown and made of nylon, and Wales were the dominant force in rugby.

1971 vs the All Blacks saw 9 Welsh in the starting lineup for the first Test and  8 for the second.

1974, arguably the most famous of tours, saw Wales have the 6 players start the first Test,  which would definitely had been seven had Gerald Davies ignored his conscience and toured.

1977, another trip to New Zealand, another 8 Welshman starting both of the first two tests

The EIGHTIES

1983, another hiding against The Blackness, saw Wales and Ireland dominate the Test team, with 6 Wales and 5 Irish pulling on the red jersey for the first Test, this then shifted to 6 Irish for the other three Tests. Ireland were the top B&I team in that year’s Five Nations.

1989, the last victory in Australia and the Tour that is being touted as where the men of 2013 should take inspiration.  Well, it seems that Ian McGeechan, another arch defender of BOD this week, wasn’t too keen on the Irish back then.  The first Test, which saw a hammering dished out by the Wallabies, included 5 Welsh, 5 Scots, 1 Irishman and 4 English.  The second outing had 8 English, 4 Scots, 3 Welsh and, count ‘em, 0 (zero) Irish.  The third Test was the same starting lineup and there wasn’t even an Irishman on the bench, so not a single emerald islander anywhere in the match 21!

Funny that no-one mentions this or accuses Geech of destroying the Lions ethos while they wax in orgasmic tones of the glorious victory.

The NINETIES

The Lions were nearly completely ruined in New Zealand in 1993 as 8 English started the first Test and 11 (ELEVEN!) started the second and third run-outs.  Good job there was no Twitter around then as the internet might have imploded and sucked the world into an irrational, whingeing black hole.

1997, the last time a Lions team won, was admittedly a very good mix of nations. But still with a bias towards England.

The NOUGHTIES

2001, the last time the Lions were in the land of Oz saw 8 English start each Test, and in the second Test, if you count the bench, there were 13 England players in the match squad.

I’m not even looking at 2005, it’s too painful and Woodward took the two-thirds of the population of the country on tour.

2009, the epic battle in SA, saw a decent mix of players, most of whom got injured.

 

There you go then.  Many tours have had lop-sided selections, including the legendary 1989 outing, and somehow the Lions have survived.

6 comments

I read a good piece on some Irish newspaper site today that disappointingly convinced me that the Lions ethos is not as well shared as people think. It seems that when people said “I will support them no matter what” it seems that what they meant is “I will support them no matter what*”

*small print disclaimer
– I massively disagree with the squad selection
– I think the motives behind said selection are dubious
– my favourite player(s) are dropped
– my country is under represented
– The Welsh get a load in cos that Cardiff game was a fluke one-off and they can’t beat the SH teams
– I don’t like the playing style

Obviously I’m able to talk like this because I don’t have to deal with any of the above, so I do have sympathy with people disliking the selection, disliking BOD being dropped, etc. (sympathy but it doesn’t mean I agree – I reckon Tips and Ianto should also be starting). I do though have nothing but contempt for the psuedo-intellectual cowardice of “maybe it would be a good thing if the Lions lost” bollocks – man up and admit you hate them now because of one of the above and don’t want them to win. Don’t pretend you have The Lions best interests at heart.

And for those openly now shouting “come on you Aussies” so Gatland isn’t proved right, piss off.

In all fairness, they didn’t have much choice in 1993. The second test performance was fantastic as well.

I basically imagine that most of the people who are arguing about the issue are like me: it has nothing to do with wanting a fair mixture of players, and everything to do with not wanting a team full of Welshman. I had no complaints about 1993, and thought that they should have had more Englishmen in 2001. All Lions fans should want the best team out there. It just so happens that in this case this has collided with the fact that most of the best available team are Welsh (and there are few quibbles you could make: I would rather have Manu than JD2, but Evans over Parling).

Bertie, I agree that defining what the Lions ethos is is an interesting discussion in its broader sense. 

However, people this week are specifically arguing that having so many of one nation in the team and excluding the Scots "disrespects the ethos of the Lions", or "is not what the Lions are about".  My post is written from the point of view that if we were to follow that logic then there are shitloads of Lions test teams from numerous tours that have disrespected the Lions ethos.  Which of course they haven't, and neither has this team selection, because the argument is utter, utter bollocks.

I think the whole numbers game is a bit of a red herring. I suspect what most people are peeved at is Gatland’s pre determined strategy of having the lions play like Wales, which funnily enough then justifies a Welsh dominated line up. Even the non welsh contingent have been picked with that strategy in mind hence Bowe (Northesque?) over say Zebo who adds a bit of dash, Corbs is the closest he could get to Jenkins (scrummages well and is great at the breakdown), SOB… well he’s big I suppose and Parling – no I don’t get it either…

Anyway back to my laboured point perhaps people were looking for a team that doesn’t look or plays exactly like Wales becuase we have seen a lot of games between Aus and wales. Even if it was a Wales dominated team but with the likes of Manu, Youngs, Croft, Zebo so that you have a team capable of both power and pace/ guile then people would be less p1ssed off? Maybe?

“I basically imagine that most of the people who are arguing about the issue are like me: it has nothing to do with wanting a fair mixture of players, and everything to do with not wanting a team full of Welshman”

Well Bob, at lest you are an open and honest racist. Country dominance is fine as long as it is not The Welsh. I am, and regular readers may find this hard to understand, speechless. I’ve never encountered an out and out hater of my race before. I mean a straight up hater of Welshmen. Amazing. You make me sick.

I see your point but would say that actually it’s “Gatland playing the way his teams play” and the team he is currently in charge of are Wales. He was not going Ito invent a new style for him in six weeks. Maybe this meant he shouldn’t have been coached – again, can understand that, was not happy myself when he was picked but that was for selfish reasons.

Perhaps if people move behind thinking this is a welsh thing and realise it is a Gats style of rugby we can move beyond the welsh hating and discuss sensibly dislike of style, disagreement of selection, etc.? Do we have to keep turning it into a race thing?

Comments are closed.