The 2017 Lions are up against history and a rugby nation united behind the All Blacks

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  • Harry Jones said | June 2nd 2017 @ 5:07am

    Inspired, Spiro. Thank you for this. Reminds me of why I fell in love with rugby as a boy and never cheated on it.

  • Graeme said | June 2nd 2017 @ 6:05am

    Great history and culture lesson Spiro. Thanks

  • Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | June 2nd 2017 @ 6:08am

    Nice work Spiro.
    Explains the history of the current NZ rugby culture and passion, very well.
    Like the phrase ‘cranky South Island farmer’. I think Ive met him.
    Or is there more than one?

    • Wal said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:20am

      Plenty of them, in fact pretty much every gentleman on my mother’s side fits this descriptor very well.
      But also every bit as generous and loyal too.

    • Paul Cleland said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:40am

      Trust me, there are many!!

  • Andrew Deans said | June 2nd 2017 @ 6:36am

    Thanks Spiro. Your article captures very well the pride and passion associated with the All Blacks.

  • Mukhtar said | June 2nd 2017 @ 8:18am

    The perfect prologue to the BIL tour of the Shaky Isles…
    Thanks, and Regards, Mr. Zavos!!

  • Tock said | June 2nd 2017 @ 8:20am

    Bravo Spiro

    A great piece of writing. I love your rhetorical flourishes and the subtle and sometimes not so subtle hyperbole.

    I have just been to New Zealand for the first time recently and so much of what you’ve written above struck me as I toured your beautiful country (or should I say your old country).

    As an Australian rugby fan I can’t wait to watch the lions all-black series and this article has just added to that sense of anticipation.

    So thank you very much Spiro

  • Geoff Parkes said | June 2nd 2017 @ 8:27am

    Thanks Spiro, you are truly the master of these historic pieces placed into a modern context.

  • Daniel Jeffrey said | June 2nd 2017 @ 8:39am

    A brilliant piece Spiro – this was an absolute pleasure to read.

  • Benjamin Conkey said | June 2nd 2017 @ 8:42am

    Top read Spiro. Felt like I was back in 1904 with your wonderful descriptions. I’m pumped now for the Lions Tour to kick off!

  • DanFan said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:01am

    Wonderful photographs .

    • Daniel Jeffrey said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:23am

      Glad you enjoyed them DanFan

  • sheek said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:07am

    Hi Spiro,

    Wonderful stuff, really enjoyable. As much as i love the history & pageantry of Lions tours, the sad truth is that they are one of the greatest underachievers in sport.

    Despite all the talent that can be assembled every three, four or whatever years in the past, from four geographically & culturally closely knitted countries.

    The Lions have won only once in NZ, in 1971. Yet had the four-point try been introduced a few months earlier in the southern hemisphere, the drawn 4th test would instead have been a 15-14 win for the ABs, thus causing a shared series.

    Also in 1971, the ABs scored 8 tries to 6 in the 4 tests, albeit five tries came in the 2nd test.

    While the wonderful Lions backs wowed the NZ rugby fans in minor matches, during the four tests, flyhallf Barry John booted the leather off the ball.

    Despite a glittering array of talented backs, they were only rarely unleashed during the tests.

    I hope Lions tours continue but I doubt it. Already there is pressure to reduce the 10 match program to 8. Eventually it will die.

    For me, 10 matches is the absolute minimum, requiring just six tour games in which to develop a united & winning test combination from the best players from four countries, before the opening test.

    Anyway, thanks again Spiro, really fascinating reading.

    • taylorman said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:36am

      True about the try value sheek though in fairness it was JPR that dropped the goal knowing it would have won rhe series by drawing the test but does show how close their only series win was.

      • sheek said | June 2nd 2017 @ 2:54pm

        Yes Taylorman,

        A slight correction, with the 4-point try, the 4th test would’ve been 16-15 to the ABs, not 15-14.

        Of course, the teaser is, with 4-point tries, how differently would the Lions especially, have approached the series, in the knowledge they had a fabulous backline.

        • taylorman said | June 2nd 2017 @ 8:42pm

          True Sheek, even more so, if they’d known how poor the ABs were that year they probably would have opened up a lot more, but I think the Welsh tour in 69, where the legends we speak of today were all thumped big time, had an influence on proceedings. It’s just so many quality ABs were gone by 71.

          • sheek said | June 6th 2017 @ 2:38pm

            All true again Taylorman,

            The Welsh got ell & truly thumped in 1969.

            But so many of their budding stars were very young in ’69.

            In the backs Edwards was 22; JPR & Bennett only 20; BJ & Gerald Davies both 24.

            In the forwards Mervyn Davies 22 & Taylor 23. They would have learnt a great deal from that tour.

            All these guys bar Bennett were selected for the Lions in ’71.

  • Rugby Tragic said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:13am

    Great piece Spiro… thank you. Probably means a tad more to New Zealanders but fans of rugby anywhere will surely enjoy this piece.

  • Clash said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:18am

    Tremendously emotive piece of writing Mr Zavos which beautifully encapsulates the Adoration of the Rugby Child.

  • Bob said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:32am

    Ive bagged Spiro a lot but in this he has excelled, a terrific article and a great story told well. Thank you

  • Paul Cleland said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:46am

    Spiro I’ve lived in Australia for more than 37 years but born a kiwi. That really brought it all back to me, especially Athletic Park where sometimes you had to hang on to something to stop being blown over. It will be a great series and I pray the Lions never stop touring because it’s great for the game. I would like to see all teams visiting the UK to play a test against the Lions. At the moment the nearest thing to that is the Barbarians but the last time they looked like a Lions side was in 1972, the team that scored the greatest try of all time started by Phil Bennett and scored by Gareth Edwards.

  • richard said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:57am

    Thank you,Spiro.Very interesting write up.

  • The Sheriff said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:11am

    Great stuff Spiro.

  • Eljay said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:37am

    Spiro, this article is among the finest, if not THE finest rugby piece I have ever read – and that includes work by T.P. McLean and Evan Whitton. Not only was it a masterful piece of prose it also gardened up a deep sense of pride in what it really is to be a proud New Zealander. I feel privileged to have sat at your feet and to have been inspired by you. Thank you, Teach.

    • Muzzo said | June 2nd 2017 @ 12:12pm

      Hi Eljay,
      In response to Terry McLean, he did , & was a journalist, that was known to “ruffle” a few feathers, as we might put it, especially when touring with All Black teams. Amongst, some of the touring players he did have issues with. This is what has been told to me, by some, that were present, hence the nickname Poison Pen. Cheers.

  • Gewurtz said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:37am

    Brilliant writing!

  • taylorman said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:38am

    Nice Spiro, and to think there are some that think this Lions tours has nothing to do with its history.

    • Rugby Tragic said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:57am

      History tells us where we have been … not necessarily where we are going.

      But like yourself TM, to me it has greater meaning having experienced at least some of the events that have moulded our rugby present and I believe future as long as the custodians heed the lessons of the past.

      At some time we will lose some more matches maybe even during the BIL tour.. who knows, but what it will not do is replace the past …

      • Fionn said | June 2nd 2017 @ 11:05am

        Exactly, if history always informed the present and the future there would be no surprises.

        The idea that because the All Blacks have historically beaten the Lions they will certainly beat the Lions in 2017 is silly.

        However, you can be certain that the Lions will feel the weight of history against them, and the All Blacks will both take strength from history, and also take inspiration from history and try and live up to it.

        • taylorman said | June 2nd 2017 @ 8:44pm

          Yes, the third paragraph totally contradicting your second. History is either a factor or it’s not.

          • Fionn said | June 3rd 2017 @ 4:52pm

            Well no, it actually doesn’t actually.

            The second paragraph says that the notion that because the All Blacks have historically won means they will win this year is nonsense. The fact that they have won in the past does not necessarily mean they will win this series.

            The third paragraph says that the weight of history will work against the Lions and also give strength to the All Blacks.

            The two statements can of course coexist with one another.

          • Gavin Fernie said | June 3rd 2017 @ 7:46pm

            You need counselling taylorman. I suggest a course in basic logic and use of your grey matter.

  • Mongolian Expat said | June 2nd 2017 @ 11:07am

    Spiro, wonderful article. Thank you.

  • Muzzo said | June 2nd 2017 @ 12:05pm

    Great read, on our past history Spiro, but in referring to Danie Craven, as one of the great coach of world rugby, would be a tad incorrect, as the great man, being a legend of the game, & creator, of the famous dive pass,in the 1937 series against the AB’s, along with being the team manager of the 1956 Springbok’s, to NZ, was also a fantastic administrator for the game, in his native South Africa. I myself had, the pleasure, as a youngster, of actually talking with the man himself, whilst the tourists, were in Dunedin, in 1956.

  • Akari said | June 2nd 2017 @ 12:41pm

    Thank you, Spiro. Great background before the Lions formally kick-off their tour with their 1st game against the provincial Baabaas tomorrow.

    When I watch the ABs perform the haka, I see a great “example of racial and cultural integration that has contributed to the unity of New Zealanders of different origin”. Unity & purpose shortly before kick-off and then a mauling of the opposition via a running and inspired attacking game. Can’t wait for the first test.

  • Diggercane said | June 2nd 2017 @ 12:57pm

    Terrific Spiro, thank you.

  • Scott Pryde said | June 2nd 2017 @ 1:24pm

    Wonderful piece Spiro.

  • stevepatrick said | June 2nd 2017 @ 2:19pm

    Brilliant article !!

  • Harry said | June 2nd 2017 @ 2:42pm

    Superb read, thank you Spiro.
    Fairly confident NZ will have this series wrapped up after 2 tests.
    Only possible variants to this are:
    – Injuries of key NZ players Reid and Retallick, who are, by some distance, the best players in the world in their positions. Even NZ’s great depth would be hard to cover those two.
    – Lions dominate the set pieces. Though the NZ lineout hasn’t wobbled in years, neither really has the scrum.
    – Referees from (presumably) South Africa, France and Australia for the tests. Likely to be tougher than their usual pet foreign ref, Nigel Owens.

  • Tamworth said | June 2nd 2017 @ 3:51pm

    In this centenary of Passendale, we might remember that Dave Gallager the 1905 Captain was killed in October 1917 at the 2nd Battle for Passendale

  • Stu B said | June 2nd 2017 @ 4:23pm

    Inspirational Spiro. My resistance to reconnecting Foxtel has been dented.Hope to see some exceptional rugby on the tour then we will have to face some very battle hardened All Blacks.Good luck.

  • Mart said | June 2nd 2017 @ 4:44pm

    Terrific appetiser ahead of tomorrow’s opener, thank you Spiro ! I note a couple of ‘quality’ UK newspapers have bullish articles about the Lions chances today (Friday), guess that’s par for the course (given their readership) before a tour 1st game. For me it’s hard to go past a 3 nil ABs win given their strength (players and organisation)… but with the Lions you just never know what you will get. Essentially a ‘high-class’ version of the Baa Baas, if they gel it could just be a great (and close) series. But whatever the result, the colour and spectacle that the Lions and their fans bring every 4 years is fantastic, long may the tradition – and full tours – last !

  • Sport lover said | June 2nd 2017 @ 5:30pm

    This writer has adopted his usual practice of overlooking rugby league – this time how rugby union was forced to modify its own rules due to the popularity of rugby league in New Zealand in the period 1910-1920.

    Rugby league’s (English) Lions in fact drew nearly double the crowd identified by the writer at Auckland’s Domain, twice, in 1920 – with close to 40,000 in attendance for each of the Lions games against the Auckland and New Zealand teams.

    This casts considerable doubt on the entire thesis he has propounded here…

    • rebel said | June 2nd 2017 @ 5:55pm

      Its a rugby article. Go write uour own.

    • Beezlebub said | June 10th 2017 @ 6:45am

      Oh dear me, what are you doing?

  • Steve Wright said | June 2nd 2017 @ 6:39pm

    Are you one of us, Spiro, or an observer?

  • Gilbert said | June 2nd 2017 @ 9:43pm

    Blackness rules. Long may it be.

  • Daffyd said | June 2nd 2017 @ 10:58pm

    Hi Spiro, great article, but I fear the Lions are up against the wall on this tour…

    One point, you mention…

    “Wallace is looking anxiously up, as is the holder of the ball (an indication that the wind was quite strong)”

    My dad who played in the ’30s& ’40s said that place kicks were different then and the ball was not placed directly onto the ground. Instead a player (not the kicker) lay on the ground (like windy days) & held the ball off the ground between fingertips of either hand. When the kicker was on his mark, the holder would remove his bottom finger to allow the ball to settle to the ground and the kicker would run in and kick and the opposition would charge. Maybe this only happened on conversions. Anyway my dad could be wrong, he was a prop after all, but I’m pretty sure that the ‘placing’ of a ball, with a heel dug hole or sand pile or tee was not done prior to WWII.

    Maybe someone else with a longer knowledge can confirm or elaborate?

    Again a great article! Thanks

    • Daffyd said | June 3rd 2017 @ 1:44am

      Well, after that I thought lets ask Ref Google… so i trawled through some old footage on youtube and found a 1948 game, France Vs England. At the 65 second mark there is a place kick being taken by France. A player is prone on the ground with hand at the top & base of the ball. I think the ref is looking very closely to see that the ball is off the ground. The kicker starts his run and the player lying prone removes his lower hand….. Does the kick go over??

  • ScottD said | June 3rd 2017 @ 2:06am

    Thanks Spiro
    Great read!

  • Tony Ridnell said | June 3rd 2017 @ 3:33am

    Great history here. Thanks for putting this together.

  • DavSA said | June 3rd 2017 @ 5:12am

    I was so inspired by your article Spiro . I am not a young man anymore and rugby has been an essential part of my life fabric . I grew up hearing stories around the braai , the dinner table and elsewhere of the mighty All Blacks , The British Lions and the legends that evolved from them and was privileged enough to sometimes even see them in action . Butbmy post won’t be completenwithout one of my own anecdotes. I listened one even over a cup of coffee to a fellow who was a soldier in the Italian campaign who was also a provincial rugby player for Eastern Province . The SA troops met up with the New Zealanders in a town square and organised a game of … Yes rugby . According to him some of the locals ran in fear as they thought the guys were having a fight . Thank you so much for making my day Spiro.

  • Kev said | June 3rd 2017 @ 1:41pm

    Fantastic reading Spiro.Growing up in that culture is a special experience and the Lions tours really draw deep into the great history of the sport.This article takes me back to 1971 as a young fella,the country was obsessed with the tour.
    Keep up the great writing Spiro.

  • Waz said | June 3rd 2017 @ 2:30pm

    Well, the Lions are only playing 15 men at a time and the rest of the nation can just watch on tv instead and they’re playing the 2017 series not re-enacting past tours so they don’t matter either. The simple question is – are the Lions good enough? Personally I’m not sure Gatlands got his squad right but the tests will tell us for sure

  • Nicholas Bishop said | June 3rd 2017 @ 3:58pm

    Always enjoy this kind of writing which connects past and present with evident feeling. Thanks Spiro!

  • Dan Matthews said | June 4th 2017 @ 3:46pm

    Great article Sipro, you’re writing on rugby as always is excellent

  • Simon said | June 4th 2017 @ 8:10pm

    Inspirational, never a truer word written, I would have liked to be alive back then but I was born in 1950. Nothing changed, we all wanted to be Allblacks and if we could not we turned out to be be the best coach/ selector NZ had.

  • Marto said | June 6th 2017 @ 12:58pm

    Against relatively mediocre Test sides, which included seven new All Blacks and the retired Brian Lochore called up to Test duties on a day’s notice, this great Lions team won a tight series two Tests to one.

    New Zealanders always have an excuse up their sleeve hey Spiro if they lose ..Injuries referee ( barnes) food poisoning ( 1995 RWC) .. A team has to play whats in front of them.. Give it a rest ay..

    • Beezlebub said | June 10th 2017 @ 6:47am

      Yea but we don’t need excuses too often LOL

  • Faith said | June 7th 2017 @ 7:10am

    Great stuff-I’ve learnt a lot …