The schedule for the 2013 Lions tour was announced this week as preparations begin earnest for one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the rugby calendar.
I had always been a fan of rugby growing up but it was the ‘living with the Lions’ documentary that truly gripped me. It displayed the tour ethos in such a heroic fashion. It was brutal, hilarious and inspiring all in one. From Jim Telfer’s famous speech to Keith Wood burying his head into a waitress’s bellybutton, it had everything.
The three tours since have been disappointments with varying severity but the fact remains that all three have seen the Lions finish second best. Although it is a massive money spinner for plenty of outlets and brands, the Lions franchise needs a win.
This tour looks like being a bit special too. Australia boast a plethora of young talent and 2013 looks to be nigh on perfect time for them in terms of their development. The likes of Kurtley Beale (22), James O’Connor (21), David Pocock (23) and Quade Cooper (23) will be nearing their prime; a scary thought.
With the talent coming through on these shores, particularly in Wales, it should make for a pulsating test series. It is a little early to be selecting potential test line-ups and coaches but let us indulge ourselves anyway.
The Coaching Ticket
The front runner at this point in time has to be Warren Gatland, given his success with Wales and the fact that he has worked in both England and Ireland. Andy Irvine, the former Scottish international who will manage the side, has stated that ‘continuity is important’; another reason to favour Gatland as he was an assistant coach on the last Lions tour to South Africa.
Irvine, however also intimated that the search for a coach would be a global one, which will throw names like Graham Henry into the mix although it would be a surprise to see a coach selected who is not working on these shores. The coach incumbent however would not be available to coach in the 2013 Six Nations as he would “need to be free of international commitments so he can look at players from the four home unions and be at different matches”, according to Irvine.
Given England are in a mess at the moment and without a coach, the main contenders have to be Gatland, Declan Kidney and Andy Robinson, with the former surely a head in front at the moment. Ian McGeechan is, 2009 coach, is of course a possibilty too.
The Test Team
Given the emergence of some of the Welsh youngsters in the World Cup as well as some promising talent coming through the ranks across all the home nations, there is no reason why this can’t be an exceptionally strong Lions side.
There were a couple of particularly tough calls to make, none more so than at fly half and number eight where the Leinster duo of Sexton and Heaslip face stiff competition from their Welsh counterparts, Priestland and Felatau.
Yes, it is WAY too early to predict a fifteen for the opening test against Australia in Brisbane but based on current form and potential, here is an attempt below, with Warburton commander in chief. Let us know your thoughts!
Whichever the coaching ticket or the personnel, this wil be a special tour. 2013 cannot come quick enough.