Friday, July 05, 2013

Lions : just another excuse to claw each others eyes out

Please welcome new HoR contributor Iain O’Connor who offers his two cents on the BOD debate…

Rugby Opinion

This isn’t how I wanted it to be. I had a rant all written and put together on how tribalism can drive teams to succeed and in the case of the Lions can drive individuals to excel for the sake of the team. But let’s face it, that’s pretty pointless given the events of the last 48 hours.

I have to admit I love the Lions. The idea of four nations binding together as a group and going to take on a top team, being able to throw off petty differences for one bash at glory. The idea that players who normally make you spit bile and tremble with fear are now suddenly there to be cheered on is a unique experience and one I personally have always taken to.

Memories of Guscott’s drop goal in 97, BOD burning Burke in Australia last time out, Brian Moore’s fists in 89 and Gareth Erdwards’ sideburns are ones we can all share as a collective. This is what I always considered to be the magic of the Lions. That was up until Wednesday morning.

As of now I stand disillusioned with the Lions. Let down by the whole thing. A little bit empty about the concept. But not for the reasons you think.

I have come to the realisation that my vision of the Lions is one that is not shared widely and ever since BOD-gate I have been slightly repulsed by the reaction of “fans”, journalists, former players and the internet. I think we can safely say that the decision to drop Brian O’Driscoll was not one that was taken lightly by anybody involved. I would imagine that telling BOD that he was out was one of the most difficult conversations Warren Gatland has ever had to have but as Gatland has repeated since, it was a rugby decision and one he feels had to be made to win on Saturday.

Whether you agree that the team is better or worse off without BOD is a conversation for elsewhere. Whether or not I personally agree with it is beside the point. The point I want to get across is that it was made with one goal in mind. One aim. Winning.

The fact that in the last 24/48 hours people have called into question whether or not Gatland wants to win this series is both ridiculous and petty. The internet has been abuzz with audacious claims of conspiracy and I have even seen it touted that he wants to sure up his position with the Welsh by giving them as many places as possible. I am willing to put half of this down to being reactionary nonsense and the other half, well you know what they say about the internet and logical argument, they go together like the Wesboro Baptists and decency.

The justice for BOD pages on Facebook and the so 2009 “Hitler reacts” videos are not enough to upset me. I know what the internet is and how it is like the Luas Red Line; full of people with weird opinions who you don’t want to make eye contact with. The naked men from Portumna did upset me but in a very different way. No, the thing that has me most annoyed over the whole debacle is the reactions of people I actually respect. Having listened to the Second Captains podcast and heard Ken and Murph proclaim their support for the Australians I almost went back to Off The Ball/GAA Chat or whatever it is called now. But here we had two great broadcasters/podcasters who’s opinions I have the upmost respect for proclaiming their support, or probably more accurately their rejection, of a team over one selection decision.

I am not from Galway but can someone let me know do the French flags come out of there are no Connacht players in the Irish team? When Ireland played the New Zealand with a predominantly Leinster team did the other 3 provinces turn black? No? Didn’t think so.

Former pros have been needlessly adding to the agro with Keith Wood questioning whether or not Gatland gets the Lions ethos, Willie John has even popped up to suggest that the squad selection has been done by the Aussie press. Both may, in a lot of people’s eyes, have points but this is possibly the worst time to make them. Mr. McBride said that Deans is laughing all the way and I would say he is now that he is watching us eat each other for breakfast.

You have to at some point remember that on Saturday there is a test to play and 22 Lions have to be prepared to go out for one of the biggest games of their career. The press talk is probably not helpful but the talk from former Lions and legends is destructive.

What surprises me most is that I am not surprised that this has happened. It has been somewhat inevitable. Since the squad was announced there has been an underlying air or negativity towards the tour and towards its management. For every injury there has been someone in green who has been heralded as the must-go replacement. For every dip in form there is an Irishman who would do a better job and as day follows night a team selection is always followed up with a Welsh bias mantra. None of which came with a genuine want to win tests, all of which came with a want to get as many players capped as possible. I am not suggesting that we are the only people at this, all four nations are doing the same proving that tribalism is far easier than tour unity.

As for the Welsh bias, I don’t think anybody in their right mind could argue that Wales are not the best team on the northern half of this planet. England are a steadily growing team who will come good in a year or two, the Scots are average and we are going into a time of great change after a season best compared to standing in dog poo; a nasty experience that we need to move on from quickly. It makes sense that the Welsh were always going to make up the bulk of the squad. They just won a championship without a manager for Christ sake. Take the aftermath of the first test as an example, nobody was shouting about bias when Mike Philips was dumped for having a bad game in a win, if anything I think he was dropped quicker to over compensate. Alex Cuthbert has been dropped without so much as a whimper having scored a try in a test. Hibbard and Youngs have been inseparable on form yet the Englisman got the nod for the first two tests and so on.

So this is why I am disillusioned with the Lions. What could have been a great chance to show unity and win a series has descended into everybody grabbing what they can and shouting I told you so. It could have been a great example of European rugby but instead we have a sniping from the long grass and people proclaiming their allegiance to Australia for one game. Maybe it is a historical thing? Maybe it is in our genes that we just can’t get along without reverting to taking what we can and damning our partners. Maybe the EU is doomed to the same fate eventually too. I fully expect there to e people who won’t cheer on the Lions this Saturday out of spite but I for one will be with extra gusto. As for four years’ time though? Well I just won’t get my hopes up.

I had a conversation this morning with my father in which he proclaimed “I couldn’t give a sh*t if the Lions is 15 Welsh lads, if they win I am celebrating” and I have to say I absolutely agree.

Iain O’Connor (@iain_not_ian) is a Leinster fan who should have retired from playing bad standard rugby years ago. Part time stand up comedian and full time radio person he is the presenter and creator of Heave, a schools rugby show on Dublin South FM. He also likes rugby league and names Alisona Taumalolo as his hero.

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