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Let the Games Begin

Let the Games Begin

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It’s been called the tour from hell – five weeks, 10 matches, three Tests. Lynn McConnell of Rugby News previews the Crusaders vs British and Irish Lions match and outlines the other games you won’t want to miss.

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 17: Mitchell Drummond of the Crusaders (C) and his teammates celebrate scoring a try during the round four Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Blues at AMI Stadium on March 17, 2017 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

LYNN’S LOWDOWN
Christchurch has a rich, and some would say infamous, history regarding Lions games over the years. But in the wake of the 2011 earthquake, it doesn’t possess a Test-capable venue, so this will be the only chance for Cantabrians to see the tourists in action. Against the powerful Crusaders side, it will be a useful guide to what might be expected in the Test matches ahead. No side is likely to field more All Blacks against them.

HISTORY: THE TEMPEST
The 1971 Lions game with Canterbury has gone down as one of the most combative encounters in touring matches in New Zealand. Alex Wyllie recounted his memory of events in the 14-3 loss. “All I can go by, and the talk among the guys in the front row, was that before the game Hoppy [Alistair Hopkinson] had been talking to some other props around the country and was told they [the Lions] were cheating and causing other problems. I was playing on the side of the scrum
then and I remember Hoppy saying, ‘If you don’t get your bloody head up and do this, then you’re going to get it.’ They didn’t do anything about it and [Lions and Scotland prop Sandy] Carmichael just came boring in and dropping his head and everything else. So – in those days you could get away with it – Hoppy belted him. The other fight was a bit of a scuffle going on between, I’m pretty sure it was, Hamish Macdonald and Ray McLoughlin, and I just stepped in to try and help.
Ray just took a swing at me and hit me. He split my cheek open but broke his thumb.”

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 12: George Whitelock of the Crusaders in action during the round nine Super 14 match between the Crusaders and the Lions at AMI Stadium on April 12, 2008 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images)

LIONS REACTION

The touring British press in 1971 had always been keen to have a shot at aspects of the NZ game, and this match gave them free rein. David Frost’s view in The Observer was typical in apportioning all blame to Canterbury. “In the first place Canterbury descended to the lowest level of thuggery, from the very start hitting the Lions with fists, knees, or boots at set scrums and lineouts and even in the open field. It was brutal and utterly out of character with the rest of the tour. Canterbury should be struck off the itinerary of the next Lions tour of New Zealand.” ONE-UP FOR THE SCARFIES No touring side likes being beaten by another made up entirely of students, but that was the lot for the 1977 Lions, downed 21-9 by NZ Universities at Lancaster Park. Central to the win was a contested long-range penalty attempt by halfback Doug Morgan. Television evidence suggested the goal was successful. The touch judges believed otherwise and it was over-ruled. As TP McLean said in Winter of Discontent, “It was an extraordinary event which became quite fateful when, eight minutes later, Mr [Kevin] Lynch awarded to [Paul] Macfie a try, which [Doug] Rollerson goaled, when [Universities halfback Mark] Romans at a scrum 5m plainly knocked the ball on before offering it on the pass to [David] Syms – God knows what the hooker was doing there – and Macfie a moment later found that the Lions’ defence was one man too few.”

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR THE RUGBY FAN- RUGBY NEWS LION TOUR SPECIAL EDITION
• PHIL GIFFORD ON THE GAME’S GREATS
• JUSTIN MARSHALL CALLS IT HOW HE SEES IT
• RON PALENSKI REMEMBERS THE CLASSICS
• LYNN MCCONNELL ON THE CHALLENGE AHEAD