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Lions are still worth it

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British and Irish Lions Brian O'Driscoll during the training session at Anglican Church Grammar School, Brisbane in Australia. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday 21 June, 2013. See PA story RUGBYU Lions. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, Non-commercial use, Photographs cannot be altered or adjusted other than in the course of normal journalistic or editorial practice (including cropping/manipulation for purpose of formatting or superimposition of captions/headings). Call 44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.

British and Irish Lions Brian O'Driscoll during the training session at Anglican Church Grammar School, Brisbane in Australia. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday 21 June, 2013. See PA story RUGBYU Lions. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, Non-commercial use, Photographs cannot be altered or adjusted other than in the course of normal journalistic or editorial practice (including cropping/manipulation for purpose of formatting or superimposition of captions/headings). Call 44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.

British and Irish Lions Brian O'Driscoll during the training session at Anglican Church Grammar School, Brisbane in Australia. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday 21 June, 2013. See PA story RUGBYU Lions. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, Non-commercial use, Photographs cannot be altered or adjusted other than in the course of normal journalistic or editorial practice (including cropping/manipulation for purpose of formatting or superimposition of captions/headings). Call 44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.

The sceptics will tell you the British and Irish Lions are an anachronism.

They will tell you the rugby tourists have become little more than a rugby version of the Harlem Globetrotters, without the guaranteed entertainment.

Do not believe them. Instead, watch and soak up the intensity as Sam Warburton's team take on Australia in a first Test in Brisbane which promises to be one of the sporting highlights of the summer.

There are so many points of anticipation.

Can exciting Lions wing George North give a lesson in rugby union to Australia's dynamic rugby league convert Israel Folau, who is making his debut? Can Lions half-backs Mike Phillips and Jonathan Sexton gel to give the tourists a creative spark and an agreeable tempo?

 

TALISMANIC

Can talismanic but ageing Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll, starting his seventh Lions Test in the same city where he played his first 12 years ago, deliver yet another inspirational performance?

Can a Lions pack, beset by injuries but containing the experience of Adam Jones, Paul O'Connell and Alun-Wyn Jones as well as a back row of mercurial talent, provide the domination up front and in the lineout which is crucial to the Lions' chances of success?

Most of all, can the Lions produce the cohesive performance against a worthy, but hardly extraordinary, Australian side to prove the Lions concept still has a place in modern sport?

Winning at the top level these days requires obsessive focus. It demands familiarity, professionalism and meticulous preparation. That is not always easy to accomplish with disparate, if talented, groups of rugby players from five different countries, including a combined Ireland. Not when they play the odd snatched game together, following a few weeks of practice.

The Lions have not won a series since 1997, when captain Martin Johnson led them to a 2-1 victory in South Africa.

Their only other series triumph in 39 years came when Finlay Calder's side triumphed 2-1 in Australia in 1989.

Two wins out of their last 10 Tests and two series victories out of their last nine tours does not sit well with those who believe the Lions have had their day and who argue that they are no longer relevant now that the World Cup gives rugby a genuine competitive championship between the two hemispheres and when matches between the top international sides are commonplace.

Yet there is something special about the Lions. There is something magical about assembling the best from these islands and seeing the sum of the whole outstrip the individual parts.

It is to do with the camaraderie and the way in which men who fought each other in the fiercest of Six Nations battles months before come together in unlikely combinations and a common purpose.

 

COMBINATION

Truly, it goes to the core of sport. Can Warburton lead the 2013 Lions to victory? It is a tough ask because injuries have robbed them of key personnel such as wing Tommy Bowe, prop Gethin Jenkins and battering centres Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi. The midfield combination of O'Driscoll and Jonathan Davies is short on physical stature, while the Lions pack has been unimpressive in lineout and scrummaging to date, even when dismissing inferior opposition.

The midweek defeat by the Brumbies also has not helped momentum, but it will have focused the need in the Test team for a massive effort and a concentration on technique.

It promises to be the tightest of encounters but there is pace, subtlety and firepower in Warburton's Wales-dominated side which suggests the smart money should be on the tourists. Take the Lions by six points – a result which would go some way to winning over the sceptics.


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