British and Irish Lions legend Willie John McBride isn’t mincing his words when it comes to the squeeze being put on the Lions tour schedule.
The 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand is now less than three weeks away and all eyes are fixed on the brutally tough fixturesthat await the tourists.
With ten matches to contest, the home nation are set to pit five of their top Super Rugby sides, the New Zealand Maori and the Provincial Barbarians against Warren Gatland’s squad. All this in addition to the three thunderous Tests against the double-defending world champions.
Played out over six weeks, the originally expected 37-man squad was extended to 41 in order to deal with what will likely be a tour of attrition for the visitors.
Despite this, McBride, who toured with the Lions no less than five times, has been scathing of his assessment of the compacted tour and believes that English clubs are to blame.
Reported by Stuff, the Irishman was speaking to Gloucestershire Live and didn’t hold back.
“The Lions is something really special in our game.
“With less games and short preparation the importance of the Lions is diminishing and it has done so since the game went professional in 1995.
“The plans to shorten the tours are dreadful.”
Back when the 76-year-old was leading the Lions, they were embarking on a tour that could last a couple of months and feature at least 12 games.
In fact, the successful Lions tour of New Zealand in 1971 featured an mammoth 22 matches over 10 weeks and this is the kind of perspective McBride has formed his belief around.
“They must be a minimum of 12 games long to give players a chance to bond together as a team.
“The tours need to be a couple of months long.”
Since the dawn of the professional era in the early 1990’s, domestic leagues have grown in scale and pressure have been put on international Test series as a result. Two months of summer rugby just doesn’t fit into the schedule of a modern day rugby calendar and McBride is firmly pointing the finger at English clubs for leading the campaign for truncating international tournaments.
“It is the English clubs that are deciding what is happening.
“I would hate to see a time when the English clubs do not allow their players to represent the Lions.
“It is those club that are killing the Lions.”
How do you feel about the Irishman’s comments? Is he correct or is he holding onto the memories of an amateur game?
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena