Lions staying on their feet in the PR game
Lessons have been learned from previous tours in not winding up these wounded Walllabies
No doubt the Lions have learned the lessons of 2005, when the Alastair Campbell-choreographed Lions’ PR machine went into overdrive in the fallout from Speargate in a manner that was the polar opposite of their response yesterday.
The current management and PR department were assuredly mindful of what that achieved. The All Blacks developed a siege mentality and were, despite comfortably winning the first Test 21-3 in Christchurch, the ones in a vengeful mood when putting the Lions to the sword in Wellington a week later by 48-18.
There’s nothing to achieve by riling the Wallabies or the Australian media, not least as it’s the Lions who are one-up and the Wallabies are wounded enough. And aside from the anticipated reaction from wounded foes fighting for their lives, Warren Gatland has already voiced the Lions’ concerns about Chris Pollock’s refereeing last Saturday, and specifically at the breakdown where they were penalised seven times in a 12-7 penalty count against them.
With another Southern Hemisphere referee this weekend, Gatland threw garlands towards Craig Joubert, but there is deep disquiet within Lions ranks over Pollock’s performance.
In the Australian media, there’s been relatively little criticism of Robbie Deans and his selections or tactics, although one senses the choice of James O’Connor as outhalf is being kept on the back burner, as might Gatland’s decision to change his props in the 52nd minute.
The response to and coverage of the Wallabies’ defeat has largely centred around the dramatic endgame, when favoured son Kurtley Beale slipped when missing the second of two late penalties with the last kick.
Instead, Gatland’s comments questioning Beale’s choice of moulded boots, drew their ire. “Gatland sinks boot into Kurtley,” exclaimed The Australian. “Gatland sinks the boot into Kurtley” agreed the Courier Mail. “Lions scorn Wallabies’ firepower, Beale’s boot” said the Sydney Morning Herald.
As with the Australian media and public, the Wallabies will rally around Beale, whom Deans had sensitively tried to reintroduce quietly to the game off the bench in the first Test only for him to be plunged into centre stage.
It was his first game back since an abortive comeback had been interrupted by a self-imposed retreat from the game and visit to a clinic for drink-related issues, which in turn prompted Australian chief executive Bill Pulver to describe Beale as a “national treasure”.
Sport’s ability to take licence with such words was questioned by The Australian’s rugby correspondent Wayne Smith, who brilliantly recounted an afternoon he spent interviewing war veterans to determine that perhaps they were more worthy of the description, while still retaining the evident affection all feel for Beale.
In such a sports mad country, the Test series was struggling yesterday amid the brouhaha arising from the sacking of Micky Arthur as Australia’s cricket coach on the eve of the Ashes. And as for tomorrow, forget it. It’s game two in the State of Origin. But as Saturday’s pivotal second Test looms, Beale will perhaps now become a rallying point.