2013 Lions Tour: A Legacy at Risk
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There are few legacies more famous in world rugby circles than that of the British and Irish Lions.
The first Lions fixture and first tour collaboration between the four British home unions took place in 1950. Since then, the world has patiently awaited the naming of each star-studded tour side for an event which, in the modern era, takes place every four years.
The glamour of a Lions tour comes mainly from the idea that the British Isles are putting their best foot forward against their Southern Hemisphere rivals. Since the 15s version of rugby union is not an official Olympic sport, a Lions tour represents the only opportunity for British and Irish athletes to play together under a single banner and to try to accomplish victories as a team which, at least in recent memory, their individual nations mostly have not.
Every four years there is an unbelievable swelling of British and Irish pride, travel agents go mad with requests for tour packages, and the rugby world engages in months of unrivalled speculation about the composition of the increasingly huge tour party that will travel abroad to do battle.
In 2013, the responsibility for those selections falls upon Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
Few would envy him his task.
The rugby media, which is capable at times of tremendous overreach and overhype, are at full volume ahead of Tuesday's announcement of the squad that will travel to Australia this summer to face what is currently the world's third-ranked team.
So high are the levels of emotion surrounding such events that hardened legends of past Lions tours are often literally brought to tears when they attempt to convey the importance of these moments to the new generation.
Our video shows one such moment from Sir Ian McGeechan in 2009, when—on behalf of all previous Lions players—he implored that group of Lions to break a five test match losing streak and return some sense of pride to the Lions jersey.
On that one occasion, the Lions were successful in defeating a South African team which, by then, had already won the 2009 test series. However, the risk to the Lions' legacy is real and growing.
In 2013, Warren Gatland must try to select a group of players capable of doing what no Lions team has done since the dawn of the new millennium: win an international test series.
How can a team, any team, with such a dismal record be worth the superstorm of media hype and fan attention that a Lions tour creates?
Given the modern-day fondness in England for the glory days of the British empire, there exists no other place on earth where the art of nostalgia is taken to such perverse levels.
It is sad that rugby fans in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales must wait every four years to see their optimism rise to such a fever pitch. Individual victories for any of these nations against Southern Hemisphere opposition have become exceedingly rare. It is some measure of how far Northern Hemisphere rugby has fallen that such nations much look to a Lions tour for some hope of besting a Southern Hemisphere opponent.
And yet the mighty Lions have not—not for well over a decade.
It is even sadder when ever-bothersome demographics are brought into the equation. England's population alone, either in general or within the rugby community dwarfs opponents such as New Zealand; on this Lions tour they will face not the mighty All Blacks but one of the Southern Hemisphere's weaker targets in the form of the third-ranked Australians.
Legendary All Black coach Graham Henry said as much when he commented in a Guardian story that "a country with over a million players should be the best team in the world."
It is time for the present-day generation to end the long string of disappointments that have shrouded recent Lions tours and placed in jeopardy the legacy that past Lions players worked so hard to establish.
If the 15 best players from Britain and Ireland cannot win two of three matches against an opponent the quality of Australia, then it is time for the Northern Hemisphere to take a mercilessly hard look at the way it handles its rugby business, beginning with concepts like the Lions tour.
Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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