Lions’ invasion of New Zealand ‘a flashback to when Britain ruled the world’

‘Lions, Lions, Lions’ chant that might have been heard at Norfolk retreat of the Queen

Lions fans sing prior to the first test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Lions fans sing prior to the first test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

 

The dust has settled on the Lions’ loss to the All Blacks in the opening Test match at Eden Park and everyone has had time to step back and evaluate.

The stands at the home of New Zealand rugby were jam-packed with the red of the Lions or, as Kevin Norquay writes on stuff.co.nz, the red of the British Empire.

Norquay seemingly forgets the ‘Irish’ part of the British and Irish Lions as he writes: “Falkland Islands aside, this had to be the biggest British invasion since The Beatles rocked and rolled up the US pop charts”. You can already see where this is going and, in fairness, the British contingent and Union Jack presence in the stands was sizeable.

“Stands at the Sandringham Rd end were full of British Empire red, Lions headgear, and a “Lions, Lions, Lions” chant that might have been heard at Sandringham Estate, the Norfolk retreat of the Queen.

“At the Dominion Rd end it was the same, a red flashback to an era when Britain ruled the world, swathing maps in red. No Mutton Birds Dominion Rd halfway house here, it was red as, bro.”

Lions fans in Auckland ahead of the first Test. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Lions fans in Auckland ahead of the first Test. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

If the stands really were “a flashback to an era when Britain ruled the world”, then the action on the pitch was a good indicator of who currently rules the rugby world.

But the Lions fought valiantly, Norquay notes – albeit with a D-Day reference ...

“In the interim the Lions fought a Churchillian battle, striving for ‘victory however long and hard the road may be’. They fought the All Blacks in the scrums, fought them in the lineouts, fought them in the rucks.”

The immediate tone in the New Zealand rugby writing ranks after Saturday’s clash was that of a pat on the head for the tourists’ valiant effort, despite ultimately falling short.

However, on Sunday there was a call from Mark Reason on stuff.co.nz for All Blacks fans to settle down a little on the confidence side.

“‘Smug blanket settling over NZ’ after All Blacks’ Lions test win”, the headline reads.

Reason writes: “Come on, guys. You were magnificent on the pitch. Hard, skillful and intelligent. Everything we revere about the All Blacks. But far too many people in New Zealand really need to learn how to win. Listen to the Lions who always sing when they’re losing. Be Irish for a day.”

The Lions commercial jugernaut is hugely important to New Zealand, it must be remembered. Important in every way – the rugby union reaps mountains of cash from it, each city receives a huge economic boost when thousands of fans descend, the All Blacks themselves are properly tested on home turf by (arguably) the best the northern hemisphere can offer and so on. It’s within the interests of all in New Zealand to ensure that the Lions as an entity does not come to an end.

Two people in full lion costumes look disconsolate at the final whistle. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Two people in full lion costumes look disconsolate at the final whistle. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

As Reason says at the end of his piece: “For the sake of the game, there are many heretics in New Zealand who are fervently hoping that the Lions can turn the series and the All Blacks around.”

A lack of single leadership was also pointed out, Reason writing that “as predicted the All Blacks ruled the referee on Saturday night. They were a side full of captains. The Lions were a side full of people who wanted to be captain.”

After a loss there is inevitably going to be a block lined up for a head to be put on. Step forward the captain himself: Peter O’Mahony. Criticism comes with the territory, unfortunately.

The Munster man was chosen by Warren Gatland to lead the tourists in the Auckland showdown and his performance has very much divided opinion – particularly in the British media.

Writing for Wales Online, Mark Orders gave the Lions captain a 5/10 rating with the accompanying summation: “Lots of perspiration and one great line-out steal. Not much going forward, but O’Mahony chopped down countless New Zealand tacklers. There needs to be more, much more. Replaced on 54 minutes. Could come under pressure for place.”

In the Guardian it was a similar story, but slightly more positive. Gerard Meagher rated O’Mahony 6/10, saying: “A spirited performance and the Lions’ go-to man at the lineout. Troubled New Zealand’s as well but not enough impact at the breakdown before making way.”

That 6/10 was the same in the Independent: “Put in another physical display but couldn’t get his mischievous work in the lineout functioning. Replaced by tour captain Sam Warburton midway through the second half and could see that switch made permanently in the second Test.”

Spot a theme here?

It’s the fact that O’Mahony is under huge pressure to retain his place for Saturday’s second Test, with Sam Warburton widely tipped to take his place – something that gained more credence when the Welshman was left out of the matchday 23 for Tuesday’s meeting with the Hurricanes.

A further theme is that O’Mahony struggled at the breakdown, despite some good lineout play. In The Sunday Times, Stephen Jones breaks down the captain’s performance and outlines the exact reasons he should be dropped for the second Test.

“Peter O’Mahony, the Munster hero, has the respect of the party but out of his Munster context, he does not have the physical presence, the skills at the breakdown or the carrying game to make an impact on a Test match,” he writes.

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