Rugby winds up the loser in Lions side bereft of Captain Fantastic
If there isn’t room for Brian O’Driscoll this morning then the game has lost something
Naturally, the outcry in Ireland has been anguished and general. International commentary has fallen short of outright accusation but sits comfortably between surprise and incredulity. Yes, Clive Woodward did call for O’Driscoll to be dropped from the team but then you think back to the laughable shambles which the Woodward/Alastair Campbell Lions tour of 2005 became and, well . . .
But dropping O’Driscoll begs a bigger question: what is the Lions tour about nowadays? Moreover, hasn’t the Lions always been a bit of a forced love affair for the Irish anyhow? It is a bit like agreeing to go back into the Commonwealth once every four years. The addendum of the “and Irish” still sits a bit uncomfortably. Is there any team in any sport with a more politically correct, long-winded name that is the British and Irish Lions? In the good old bad old days for Irish rugby, Lions tours were just another reason to air a general sense of grievance against the world – particularly for those tours when the Irish were generally overlooked.
Exercise in post-colonialism
For many people, the entire enterprise was permanently tainted by the ever-scandalous decision to omit Simon Geoghegan from the 1993 tour even though he was clearly the most talented player in world rugby. And it was hard not to view the old amateur Lions tours – those majestic, boozy, X-rated Heart of Darkness-type forays which went on for months – as a mad exercise in post-colonialism, with the former masters returning to the Southern Hemisphere citadels – with a few garrulous Celts for back-up – to set the world to rights.
For Irish youngsters who grew up watching the Lions in the amateur era, it was strange, even disturbing, to observe English and Irish men being team-mates. It went against all the anecdotes and the songs and the history lessons. As long as the Lions went on, you could cheer Peter Winterbottom, who looked as if dragged from Sherwood Forest. You could sit back and enjoy watching the silkiness of Jeremy Guscott and you didn’t have to hate Will Carling quite so much.
Even so, there was always a little bit of annoyance at the composition of the Lions strip. Why did the Welsh get the jersey? The English had the white shorts.
And the Scots had the stocking. So where the Emerald Isle? On the tip of the stocking, which you could see if the Lions wore their stockings pulled up, or it wasn’t too muddy. And that only came about because George Beamish kicked up a fuss on the 1930 tour.