New Zealand media’s barbs at the Lions nothing new
Warren Gatland’s tourists not the first and won’t be the last to be derided down under
Ronan O’Gara was given a tough time by the New Zealand media during the last tour in 2005. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
If the All Blacks and their coach Steve Hansen appear to have grown real respect for the touring Lions, the same cannot be said for parts of the New Zealand media.
Written off before the tour, and even more so after some lacklustre opening performances, Warren Gatland’s side have since proven themselves a worthy match for the world champions.
And while certain sections of the Kiwi press have afforded the Lions the same credit Hansen and his side have done, others have been far more dismissive of the first side to win a Test in New Zealand since 2009.
Indeed, as Gerry Thornley reflected upon in his Letter from New Zealand, Sean O’Brien avoiding sanction – and rightly so – following his citing in the wake of the Lions’ win in Wellington, has ruffled a few feathers.
On the Sky Sports NZ programme ‘Break Down,’ All Blacks legend John Kirwan said: “Sonny Bill was reckless. Red card. Four weeks. O’Brien doesn’t get sent. But they go back and look at it. They didn’t even do that. So here’s my question. Four weeks?”
And then journalist Jim Kay, with tongue-in-cheek, suggested there was a hypocrisy to the Lions style of play: “With the penalties thing, we’re saying the Lions gave away deliberate penalties.
“That we’re saying Sean O’Brien was a bit of a thug, and that Vunipola was a bit of a thug. So the Lions are cheating thugs, isn’t that what they normally accuse the All Blacks of being?”
With arguably the biggest non-World Cup Test match of the professional era set to take place on Saturday morning it is unlikely these type of comments will cause too much consternation among the tourists’ ranks.
Because, quite simply, not only do the northern hemisphere’s players, pundits and fans have bigger fish to fry this week – but this sort of baiting from the New Zealand press is nothing new.
The last Lions tour of New Zealand was one to forget – and throughout it the class of 2005 were regularly slated by the Kiwi media.
After the second fixture of that tour – a 34-20 win over Bay of Plenty – Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald was particularly dismissive of Ireland outhalf Ronan O’Gara.
He wrote: “Kiwis know their rugby and they know a lemon when they see one. O’Gara should have painted himself yellow and jumped in a gin and tonic. His kicking was duff, his tackling was duff and he didn’t look like he could run a pack of girl guides.”
One of the nadir’s of the 2005 tour was the 19-13 defeat to the New Zealand Maori – a result which showed just how far off the required standard Clive Woodward’s side were.
And once again the claws were out in the wake of that result – with the New Zealand Herald pulling no punches: “The first clue came last Saturday, the second on Wednesday and then last night we knew for sure – the 2005 Lions are mince and potatoes billed as exotic fare...
“Some of the Lions forwards must be agoraphobic given their fear of open spaces. The instant one of the Lions’ behemoths got over the surprise of being in possession, he’d plough into the nearest black shirt.”
Even one of the few bright aspects of the Lions’ performance – Shane Williams’ trickery on the wing – was used as a source of derision.
Again, the New Zealand Herald ran the following: “The All Blacks are going to put the ball wide, attacking down the touchlines, and a defensive wing is a must for the Lions. That probably rules out Williams, who is small enough to be barred from getting on certain fairground rides.
“A couple of times he stepped so magically, defenders were left taking cartoon-style swipes at thin air. Still, he can console himself with the knowledge that if they ever re-make Saturday Night Fever, he will be in line for the lead role.”
The difference this time round however is that this Lions team is a far more competent incarnation than the whipping boys of 2005, and any jibes from the press down under this time round feel like hollow attempts to rattle the tourist’s cage.
And in less than 24 hours the tour will be decided, and any barbs worthless.