ROBBIE DEANS: The Lions on Tour – every game will be a Test!

Robbie Deans Columnist

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    Wallabies coach Robbie Deans speaks to the media. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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    Time is up on the clock. British and Irish Lions fullback Gwyn Evans is lining up a conversion from out near the sideline.

    Fortunately the kick flies wide, the final whistle goes, and Canterbury has beaten the Lions 22-20.

    The picture I have just painted might have happened 30 years ago; but it remains an indelible memory from my own playing career.

    We had a great team at the time and went on that year to win the NPC while also retaining the Ranfurly Shield; but that moment against the Lions was a once-in-a-lifetime – and they visited New Zealand a lot more frequently back then than they do now, with the schedule bringing them across once every six years in those days.

    Everyone wants to play a Test match against the Lions.

    It is an honour that eluded me, with my own All Black debut not coming until later that year; but the fact that I only experienced the Lions in a tour match capacity doesn’t change the significance of the occasion.

    Nor will it for the players chosen to represent Australia’s five states, and the combined country side, when they line-up against the British and Irish Lions on this tour.
    International rugby is a step up.

    The intensity is higher, the pace faster and the physicality a level above what is experienced in Super Rugby.

    As this touring party has been drawn exclusively from four Test sides with no uncapped players on the trip, which hasn’t always been the case on previous tours; every side the Lions put out in Australia this month will be of Test strength in its entirety.

    That will be a great challenge for the Super rugby sides, as will the intensity of the atmosphere, with stadiums packed by a significant number of vocal and red-clad visitors.

    For many of the players who feature against the Lions in these matches; the games will be the pinnacle of their careers, as it was for a number of my team-mates back in 1983.

    It will also be the biggest opportunity they have ever had.

    Performing well will nudge them closer to Wallaby level in the future; perhaps even as soon as later in the year, remembering last year was so taxing that 41 players were required across the 15 Tests played by the Wallabies.

    As selectors we will be watching these games closely, not just with regards to our own plans for tackling the Lions, but also in terms of seeing which players respond, showing that they have the capacity to take their games to the next level.

    Don’t for a second think that any of our state sides will roll over either.

    As has been the case with the professional provincial sides in New Zealand and South Africa on recent Lions tours; while those teams have played without their Test representatives, they have still proved incredibly competitive.

    The reality of last year’s circumstance, with so many players gaining Test access, is that our depth has grown significantly across the board.

    We have seen it already this year in Super Rugby.

    Even without their current Wallabies, all five Super Rugby sides will still field combinations that boast significant international experience.

    The Lions story is full of epic state or provincial upsets, where the tourists have been brought undone by an unrelenting opponent, despite pre-match expectations of a one-sided nature.

    Don’t discount more of the same as the next chapter unfolds.