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For those of you unaware of the traditions of rugby, the British and Irish Lions team is selected every four years and is made up of the best players from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. This team then goes on to travel and tour one of the big three Southern Hemisphere countries: New Zealand (as they are presently), South Africa or Australia. The primary reason for such a tour was that in previous generations, the gulf between northern and southern hemisphere sides was so great that it was perceived that only true competition would come into fruition if the British and Irish nations were to come together. However, this primary impetus for the initial Lions team has been eroded somewhat with the bettering of northern hemisphere rugby. Only the other week did Scotland, a country that notoriously wins the wooden spoon of the Six Nations, beat Australia. As well as that, both England and Ireland sit above both Australia and South Africa in the World Rugby Rankings, with only New Zealand sitting above them at first place.
So, going into the 2017 tour, the sporting and rugby commentariat were right to assert that this was perhaps the strongest Lions team in the tradition’s history. The only problem was, however, that the same could also be argued for the current New Zealand team. The key to Lions success, it was said, was in the forward pack. With the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Mako Vunipola, Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and George Kruis on the tour, this pack had, and still has, the potential to be the best in the world. Such is a testament to the strength of the pack that the likes of Dylan Hartley, England captain and hooker, and the ever-man-of-the-match winner Joe Launchbury left off of the plane and to play for their own countries. The weak links were, perceived at the time, to be the back line especially the centres and the back three. Though it is true we have the skill set of both Johnny Sexton and Owen Farell at fly-half and inside centre, we appeared to be lacking the all-around package – the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty – that the All Backs appear to churn out in their droves.
I for one was salivating at the opportunity to witness the match up between Julian Savea – a man many have attributed a similar glory to that of the legend Jonah Lomu – and George North, an absolute powerhouse of a winger. Memory of the incomparable battle between the latter and Israel Folau of the previous Lions tour to Australia only fueled this excitement. Alas, we have yet to have seen such a battle on this tour. Indeed the lack of North v. Savea is not the only thing which was unpredictably absent from this tour. Much was made of the way in which the Lions were expected to play. We expected the notorious ‘Warren Ball’ – a type of play symptomatic of the Lions coach, Warren Gatland.
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