Gordon D'Arcy: The future of the Lions is under threat unless the game embraces change
Ireland legend Gordon D’Arcy has told Independent.ie that he fears for the future of the Lions unless radical changes are made to the structure of club rugby, as he also suggested the tour may be losing some of its significance for southern hemisphere nations.
The upcoming tour to New Zealand may be one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the sporting year for rugby fans in Ireland and the UK, but D’Arcy suspects the All Blacks who will lie in wait may not view the three-Test series in the same light.
“There may be something in the theory that the opposition do not view the Lions tour as being as important as we do over here and that is a concern,” begins D’Arcy, who was part of the 2005 and 2009 Lions squads.
“The win in Australia four years ago was crucial in reviving the Lions in many respects and I hope we never get to a stage where a conclusion is drawn that we don’t need the Lions any more.
“The game has changed with the introduction of professionalism and the Lions haven’t in many respects. It may be that the thinking around the Lions needs some discussion in some way, shape or form to make sure it retains its place in the game moving forward.
“From a players’ perspective, a Lions call is still so important. The players under consideration may tell every journalist that asks them about it that they are not thinking about the Lions, but their face lights up at the prospect of winning a place on the tour and long may that continue.
“You want to be a Lion. That should never change. Hopefully it never will.”
Former Ireland captain Paul O’Connell voiced his concerns that the Lions may lose their significance in a game that has been diluted by the advent of professionalism, with the reducing number of tour games also an issue under discussion in a crowded rugby diary.
D’Arcy believes the pressures of the modern game are in danger of putting strain on the Lions importance in the rugby calendar, as he hinted the players coach Warren Gatland will take with him to New Zealand may not be at the peak of the physical powers.
“One big issue is the Lions are not necessarily working in tandem with the other organisations in the game,” D’Arcy told us.
“The Premier League, the PRO12, summer tours, the Six Nations. It is a busy schedule and at some stage, you need to reflect on how we find additional space in the calendar for a Lions tour.
“You are asking a huge amount of the northern hemisphere players this year. Coming off the back of a really tough year with the World Cup, they then played a lot of international rugby before going straight back into club action without much of a break.
“It is a really tough schedule, while the southern hemisphere teams seem to get a little more break time, which is vital in any sport.
“The Lions players should be at their peak for that tour. You would like to see the 40 players going on that tour not being wrecked by 35 matches and just two weeks rest. A brief break like that doesn’t really put you in a better place for a Lions tour of New Zealand.
“The trouble is, a Lions tour is worked around the Premier League, the Champions Cup, the Six Nations. We need all of those competitions to identify the players who are in form and ready to play at Test match level, but then the calendar is being squeezed with so many games needed to be played.
“There has to be a way around changing the schedule that would allow space for the tour to breath. That would require a little but of giving and taking on all sides, but I think it is worth the effort.”
“A win in New Zealand would be fantastic and the idea that the Lions are not relevant is not in my mind. As long as the schedule issue is resolved, I believe the tour can retain its place at the heart of the game.”
D’Arcy believes Ireland’s famous win against New Zealand last year exposed some flaws in their set-up and he hopes the Lions can expose those again when the Test matches get underway.
“The New Zealand magic has been dispelled a little bit,” he adds. “I wouldn’t say they are vulnerable, but Ireland have shown they are beatable and that is important, They don’t have players like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter any more and it would be great to see a successful tour of the Lions.”
Gordon D’Arcy spoke to Independent.ie at an event sponsored by Accenture.