martedì 28 maggio 2013

Lions get the Best

Sabato 1 giugno i British & Irish Lions scenderanno in campo prima di atterrare in Australia per la serie 2013 contro i Wallabies: in programma ad Hong Kong c'è infatti il match contro i Barbarians. Nel frattempo, qualcosa è cambiato: l'espulsione nella finale di sabato di Premiership è costata cara a Dylan Hartley - 11 settimane di squalifica -, lasciando strada libera a Rory Best, che contemporaneamente ad Hartley stava disputando la finale di Pro12 a Dublino, poi persa dal suo Ulster. Qui di seguito Sean Farrell, cronista di, analizza i Lions dal punto vista irlandese: oltre a Best, dall'isola giungono Cian Healy, Paul O'Connell, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'BrienConor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, Brian O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe e Rob Kearney

The Lions tour rarely lacks in drama, and this years edition has provided an unlikely late twist. 
After an awful Six Nations, we in Ireland were pleasantly surprised to have nine representatives headed for Australia. 
We could have accepted a lot of omissions, but with a fairly average standard of hooker in western Europe, the absence of Rory Best was tough to swallow. 10 suddenly seemed like a much more reasonable number.

Over in England, Dylan Hartley woke on Saturday with a mission to help himself and his team. In direct competition with Tom Youngs, a win for Northampton Saints over Leicester Tigers could have sent him down under with the arrogant swagger of a man who would bully his way to the test squad.
Instead, to the delight of everyone except Hartley, he quite literally talked his way off the tour with referee Wayne Barnes insisting he had been called a "fucking cheat". So instead of a lamentable character, Best, one of the games gentlemen is settled into his seat for a long haul flight to Hong Kong today.

Best is joined by the original nine Irishmen (O'Connell, O'Driscoll, Murray, Bowe, O'Brien, Heaslip, Healy, Kearney and Sexton ) But if the 09 tour was dominated by and Irish influence, we have nothing on the Welsh accent on this squad. Along with Warren Gatland and Rob Howley in the coaching staff, there a Welsh captain, a dozen more players with designs on the Test XV and a game-plan that will be eerily familiar to them. 
The squad's first four days together were spent in the Vale of Glamorgan and their only big hit-out before boarding in Heathrow today has been a practice match against, you guessed it, Wales. It all makes for an exciting tour. The only shadow lingering over the Welsh involvement was their series whitewash against the Wallabies 12 months ago. 

There are not many areas that the back-to-back Six Nations champions can be improved by the addition of an Irish, English or Scotsman, but number 10 is just that.
With only two out-halves selected for the tour, Jonathan Sexton is all-but assured of a Test jersey. And with Australia lacking any assurance in this area, it looks like being the match-up that holds the key for Gatland's Lions. There are arguments for and against players in every other area, but Sexton is one of a few who simply must start if the Lions have a hope of ending their poor run in the southern hemisphere. 

Harnessing the power of four nations is more difficult that it sounds. You would expect England Ireland or Wales to run Australia close or beat them in any given November Test and Ireland managed to beat them just 'across the ditch' in Auckland in 2011. In Oz, however, Australia are a different animal. The hard ground, the testing temperatures and conditions along with the Lions gearing up to play one game every three or four days. 
Add to that, the task of uniting four warring nations under one banner, implementing a game-plan simple enough that it can be picked up fast, but clever enough that Australia - the great thinkers of the game - cannot willingly pick it apart and the non-stop travelling between now and the end of June. It amounts not to a level playing field, but the Lions being up against the most difficult task in rugby. 

In Ireland, we're just glad that Best is among their ranks. The tour needed a man like him.


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