Rugby - 'How to win a Lions tour'

The difficulty of bringing together the best players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and turning them into successful Lions tourists is illustrated by how infrequently it has been achieved.

Reuters
Rugby - 'How to win a Lions tour'
.

View photo

Gavin Hastings is faced by New Zealand's John Timu during the Third test in Auckland (PA)

Although every tour is different, there has developed a consensus over some of the elements that need to be in place for the tourists to have a fighting chance of success.

PICK THE BEST PLAYERS FOR THE SQUAD REGARDLESS OF REPUTATION AND NATIONALITY

"In 1993, there were too many players living on reputations, past their sell-by-date, who had gone on one tour too many. Also there were too many political selections, and I do not believe it was the best side that could have represented the Lions," Mike Teague (England, toured 1989 and 1993)

2013: The preponderance of Welshmen (15 of 37) in Gatland's squad indicates the New Zealander has not tried to balance nationalities at the expense of quality.

PICK A CAPTAIN WHO IS A CERTAINTY FOR THE TEST TEAM

"He was a hard little bastard. But he wasn't good enough - and that coloured the whole tour," coach Jim Telfer on the controversial captain of the 1983 tour of New Zealand, Ireland's Ciaran Fitzgerald.

2013: Sam Warburton would not be in every pundit's first choice team but Gatland trusts him implicitly and backed him with the captaincy. Whether he plays with a number six or seven on his back, Warburton looks certain to start the Tests.

WIN THE FIRST TEST

"(1989) is the only Lions tour in which we lost the first Test and then went on to win the series," Ieuan Evans (Wales, toured 1989, 1993 and 1997)

2013: It does not always work, as Graham Henry's side discovered in Australia in 2001, but the opening Test is often the best chance to catch the hosts cold. Defeat, however, leaves the party with a mountain to climb, especially with the modern three-Test series.

KEEP THE MIDWEEK TEAM INVOLVED AND MOTIVATED

"The key to a successful Lions tour is you have to have quality players, but you also have to have a team spirit running through it. Whether you are in the Test side or not, everyone has to pull in the same direction," Peter Winterbottom (England, toured 1983 and 1993)

2013: One of the most important factors, but perhaps the hardest to achieve. The "dirt-trackers" have to maintain their motivation despite their secondary status but be ready to step up into the Test arena at a moment's notice. Gatland looks unlikely to follow the example of Clive Woodward in 2005 and effectively run two tours.

DON'T PICK YOUR TEST TEAM BEFORE YOU GET ON THE PLANE

"The (coaches) have to put the Test team together based on what is happening in front of them, not based on what happened historically ..." Ian McGeechan (Scotland, toured 1974 and 1977; Coach: 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2009)

2013: Another that Woodward is accused of ignoring in 2005, when he remained loyal to the Englishmen who won him the World Cup in 2003. Gatland could face the same accusation if he ignores form to favour the Welsh players he coached to the 2012 Grand Slam.

BE PREPARED TO GIVE AS GOOD AS YOU GET

"The '99' has been overplayed. It didn't happen more than a couple of times, but it stopped the nonsense," Willie John McBride (Ireland, captain of the unbeaten 1974 team, also toured 1962, 1966, 1968, 1971. Managed 1983 team)

2013: The "99" call - an alert to all Lions players to start swinging punches - was a feature of the 1974 tour of South Africa, where the Lions went unbeaten.

Refereeing is much tighter these days, and neutral in Tests, but the Lions will face intimidation, not least from provincial sides doing their patriotic duty by "softening up" the tourists.

BE READY FOR INJURIES

"If Brian was on the pitch, you'd have hoped he'd have had a galvanising effect ... We had already lost Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill, and Hill to me is one of the greatest players who ever played the game," Shane Byrne (Ireland, toured 2005) on losing captain Brian O'Driscoll in the opening minutes of the first Test against the All Blacks.

2013: Gatland has proved luckier than many a Lions coach so far with the only member of his party unable to get on the plane for Hong Kong being hooker Dylan Hartley because of his ban.

TOUR AUSTRALIA

"Australia was a big contrast. The Australians were a bit brash like the Americans. It wasn't a country village place like New Zealand, it was a brash place. We were tougher. They might have been a bit surprised. We had no trouble in Australia," Karl Mullen (Ireland, captain of the 1950 tour to New Zealand and Australia).

2013: Australian rugby is significantly better than it was in the 1950s and the current Wallabies side are young and talented. The Lions have won 15 of the 20 Tests they have played Down Under, however, and lost a series only once - to the world champions in 2001.

Quotes courtesy of "Behind the Lions" by Stephen Jones, Tom English, Nick Cain and David Barnes

View comments (1)