Monday 22 January 2018

Comment: Will fans really care if the Lions fall short against the mighty All Blacks?

A general view of Eden Park during the Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on June 24, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Jack O'Toole

"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," longtime Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said.

Lombardi made a career out of winning. His eight NFL championships and legacy is predicated upon it, and his quotes, 'Lombardi-isms', have been immortalised long after his untimely death in 1970.

Legacy and immortality are often terms associated with Lombardi's life but they have also been thrown around on this Lions tour by Sky Sports reporter Graeme Simmons and commentator Miles Harrison.

Tales to tell the grandkids? Immortality beckoning? The All Blacks not having to take on 15, or even 23 Lions, but 30,000 Lions, as Scott Quinnell nauseatingly highlighted in Sky's build up to the first Test in Auckland.

Sky have made Saturday's third Test feel a bit like Maximus Decimus Meridius and the Roman army taking on the Germanic Tribes in the opening battle scene of Ridley Scott's Oscar winning Gladiator.

The brutality certainly isn't the same, but the theatrics surrounding the event aren't a million miles off. Here's a taster.

"Right here the lads will stand here in the shadow of Everest, a sporting mountain that is rarely climbed," former England centre turned Sky Sports hypeman Will Greenwood said in the lead up to the first Test in Auckland.

"To achieve their goal they must transition from good to great, not just a collective skill, nor a collective rugby intelligence, but a collective will.

"Look into the eyes of your teammates and know that they will give their all as you will give yours, and from this the mutual trust and confidence will grow that will allow you to conquer your Herculean challenge.

"You have what it takes to become legends. You will measure up. You will excel. You will write your own history. You will be remebered."

The Lions will be remembered for a lot of things on this tour but scaling Everest and conquering Herculean challenges won't be at the forefront of most people's memories.

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What people will remember from the first Test will be one of the greatest tries in Lions history through Sean O'Brien, but also a litany of handling errors that culminated in Rieko Ioane's 45 metre try after a Liam Williams howler from a TJ Perenara box kick.

However, last weekend's second Test win in Wellington alleviated the Lions' biggest fear this tour, a 3-0 series demolition.

The 2005 Lions tour, where Clive Woodward's Lions were obliterated in all-three Tests, is still regarded today as the staple of how not to organise a Lions tour.

There were fears that something similar could reoccur in 2017 where the Lions were tasked with taking on a New Zealand side that had lost just once from their last 23 matches entering the Test series.

Those fears gathered a groundswell of momentum after the Lions had lost to the Blues and the Highlanders in two out of their first four warm-up games.

But the tourists' second Test win over the All Blacks in Wellington last weekend has altered the perception of the tour, regardless of what happens next.

Warren Gatland's side exposed a weakness in the All Blacks game that we haven't really seen before under Steve Hansen.

Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks leaves the pitch looking dejected following defeat. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks leaves the pitch looking dejected following defeat. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The All Blacks have suffered losses under Hansen before, five in five years to be exact, but they have never panicked in the same way as they did in the waning moments of last weekend's second Test.

As we head into this weekend's third Test, what is there to play for?

Sky Sports will trumpet immortality, legacy and climbing everest on a Herculean shield, but in reality, the Lions have a chance of turning over one of the greatest sides in rugby history and defeating New Zealand in consecutive Tests for the first time since 2011.

If they lose, what have they really lost? The players will undoubtedly be gutted after training for a series win for the last seven weeks, but how will the fans feel?

A Lions loss just doesn't resonate for supporters in the same way a World Cup quarter-final loss registers for Irish fans every four years, or being eliminated from the Pool stages as a host nation did for English fans in 2015.

The Lions fans in attendance will make Saturday's third Test in Auckland a spectacular occassion. Not in the battle-like, Colosseum-esque fashion that Sky will undoubtedly drum up from the early hours of Saturday morning, but in a more tasteful manner that befits the occassion.

After attending the third Test decider in Sydney four years ago, I can attest that the day of a third Test Lions decider conjures up a carnival like atmosphere that tends to take over the city in which it inhabits.

Hours before the game, throngs of Lions fans will descend into the CBD and take over the city's bars and restaurants. By the time the game approaches at 7:30pm, it has the look, feel and vibe of a massive sporting event and its embraced as such.

But for fans on this side of the globe, even with the advent and growth of social media, the third Test unfortunately won't feel like it's about to begin until God Defend New Zealand sounds out around Eden Park.

Everything else beforehand will feel like an overkill, an unnecessary inflation of a sporting event that has already proven its worth over the last seven weeks, if not the last few decades.

If the Lions win on Saturday, they will join the 1971 tour as the only group of Lions with a series win over New Zealand.

If they lose, they've maintained the Lions respectability, and in many respects have made the Lions a more attractive brand with the type of rugby that they've played.

Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing, and it's the exact attitude that the players have embraced from the moment this Test series began.

But outside of the playing squad, the second Test win has already made this tour a success, regardless of what happens in the third Test. Everest or no Everest.

Online Editors

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