Source: British and Irish Lions

Heads on the Block

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A Reaction to a Lions Pick

The Good, the Scaz and the Rugby, aka Emily Scarratt and Mo Hunt, (Elma Smit was absent), were brave enough to place their heads on the chopping block and announce their choice of a XV to start a Lions’ match. Source: (www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zlkKWXyUWA). I add my reactions.

Preliminaries

They hedged the pick about with all sorts of apologies, realising that they might lose life-long friends in the process. Mo will have to return to Gloucestershire having upset more than half of her own team.

She reflected on the 2016 Olympic squad, which required the formation of a GB team. In the event, the only addition to England players was Jasmine Joyce. Would their new Lions pick be more evenly balanced? Read on.

Who’s in Charge?

They wondered who would do the selecting. There, we must remember, the Lions have a board to decide these things. For the men’s sides, a panel is chosen to represent the four unions, with a fifth person to take the chair with a casting vote in case of a 2-2 tie from the others. It makes that position of crucial importance. And in the past they didn’t have the advantage of detailed statistics to help decide an issue.

Then the hot topic of the head coach. Our two experts passed that on like a hot potato. As I have mentioned in previous comments on the Lions, so much depends on timings, the length of the tour and the precise dates. Since it isn’t the RFU making the choice, perhaps this time a woman might find favour.

Near the head of the queue would be highly experienced DoRs of PWR clubs, above all Giselle Mather, Rachel Taylor and Susie Appleby. Then there are others with massive knowledge of the system like Katy Daley-Mclean, Niamh Briggs and Liza Burgess. All depends on their willingness to suspend their current duties for this one golden opportunity – and permission from their bosses!

Down to the Nitty-gritty

Mo and Scaz made the job harder for themselves by limiting their pick to a starting XV. Even widening it to a 23 or a squad of say 35, could cause family rows.

They had collected the thoughts of colleagues representing the other three nations, Ffion Lewis, Rachel Malcolm and Sam Monaghan. Even they hedged their picks around with alternatives.

Mo and Scaz left themselves out of the count; modesty prevailed.

They were mindful of the time-gap, 2024-2027, but selected as if the game was tomorrow, (Marlie Packer would be nearly as old as them at the start of the tour, late thirties).

The coming 6 Nations will be very revealing about the advances made by the three Celtic nations. With their new-found contracts, will they be able to narrow the gap between them and the pack-leaders, England and France? We can only hope so.

The first names entered were all the bankers, listed by everyone (though not necessarily in the same position). The rest of the side caused endless heartache.

Their team:

15 KILDUNNE (E) 14 DOW (E) 13 ORR (S) 12 M. JONES (E) 11 JOYCE (W) 10 GEORGE (W) 9 BEVAN (W) 1 PYRS (W) 2 COKAYNE (E) 3 BERN (E) 4 ALDCROFT (E) 5 MONAGHAN (I) 6 MALCOLM (S) 7 PACKER (E) 8 MATTHEWS (E)

It comprises 8 English, 4 Welsh, 2 Scots and 1 Irish.

At once we see the impossibility of this operation. Take, for example, the No 1 complaint, that the squad would be an augmented Red Roses team, a point that the NZR CEO, Mark Robinson, was at pains to discount.

If we select an England team excluding the above to play the Black Ferns, who would win?

15 ROWLAND 14 BREACH 13 AITCHISON 12 HEARD 11 MACDONALD 10 HARRISON 9 INFANTE 1 BOTTERMAN 2 ATKIN-DAVIES 3 MUIR 4 WARD 5 GALLIGAN 6 TALLING 7 KABEYA 8 BECKETT

Talk about a close-run thing! And the Red Roses would have the advantage of long-term togetherness. As things stand at present, I’d back this alternative one-nation team to beat the Ferns, forget the Lions choice.

We could even give Cardiff-born Meg Jones temporary Welsh status for the duration of the tour.

For my part, I fear I come close to agreeing with the doubters, who envisage an England side with a few choice additions:

15 KILDUNNE (E) 14 DOW (E) 13 AITCHISON 12 M. JONES (E) 11 JOYCE (W) 10 HARRISON (E) 9 INFANTE (E) 1 BOTTERMAN (E) 2 ATKIN-DAVIES (E) 3 BERN (E) 4 ALDCROFT (E) 5 MONAGHAN (I) 6 KABEYA (E) 7 PACKER (E) 8 MATTHEWS (E)

If that looks a shade jingoistic, then so be it. Now let’s ask a Kiwi to pick the team. She may well want to make it as weak as possible, for patriotic reasons, but there are ways and means of altering her opinion – under duress.

Elma would have helped provide a more balanced view, but that was not to be.

Now it’s your turn.

The Importance of a Lions’ tour

There can be little doubting how much the tour would help advance awareness of women’s rugby, even women’s sport.

There are several caveats though. Would Kiwi audiences actually start turning out in large numbers to come and watch? They didn’t for the World Cup or WXV.

Where would the tour stand in the canon of women’s rugby? I maintain it would still have to cede its place in global importance to WXV. That tournament stands at the heart of World Rugby’s attempts to widen awareness of the game across every continent. By contrast, a Lions tour of NZ would be restricted to those very few nations near the top of the tree. Too elitist for its own good.

Afterthoughts

It was good to hear that Scaz is on the mend. It’s two years since the choice of England’s No 13 ceased to be obvious.

Vodaphone are very anxious to remind us they are sponsors of the show, but it’s doubtful we really need wall posters, picture-frames, rugby balls, mugs and possibly table-mats too (?) arrayed all over the set.

Thank you, Vodaphone.

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