£21 For a Pair Of Socks The Cost Of Lions Commercialism

At the British & Irish Lions squad announcent last Wednesday, the ever increasing list of associated sponsors were announced, not once, but twice and no doubt there were subtle references throughout the day that I missed due to a great buffet and an even greater coffee machine.

The financial side of a Lions tour throws up some staggering statistics, not least the cost of a replica shirt at £120, Which is small fry compared to The Thomas Pink range, an official Sponsor, where you can buy a Lions scarf for £150 or a blazer based on the official Lions range for £495.


At the lower end of their range you can get a pair of socks for £21, which as a man who gets 50 pairs for a fiver in Primark I find absolutely staggering.


But even I weakened last week when I found in my goodie bag, from the launch, a Gillette (another official sponsor) razor and extra blades which as any man knows costs a weeks  wages these days.

I felt like a lottery winner as after three hours of effort I managed to break into the reinforced plastic pack with a bread knife, and perform the complicated locking procedure between the arm of the razor and the blade.

Another gift in the goody bag was a pair of flight pyjamas from the official airline Quantas, to help make the flight down under more comfortable.

My Lions travel schedule will involve an early morning walk downstairs negotiating two cats and a Labrador puppy to get to the television, but it’s the thought that counts.

Warren Gatland has stated that he has spent more time pleasing sponsors than he has watching rugby, the price a head coach has to pay in exchange for the millions of pounds the eleven major sponsors are ploughing in.

The Lions pay each of the home unions a fee of £70,000 per player selected,as compensation for their unavailability to under their nations summer tour.

Insurance cover for the players,on the tour to New  Zealand,will exceed the one million pound mark, and the players wage bill will exceed £3.5 million, so there is a lot of money involved.

The players themselves will receive a basic £70k tour fee plus a lucrative bonus should they win the test series
 

So it’s time for me to try out my official Lions razor I just hope the test series will be a close shave .

Next week I will be looking at the effect a Lions tour has on New Zealand’s national economy. 

Some very interesting figures emerged from my investigation.

The Hoof Under The Roof Judgement Day V

It has always been said that rugby is a religion in Wales, so on Easter Saturday a Guinness Pro 12 double-header at the cathedral of Welsh rugby seemed entirely appropriate.

The pilgrimage to the principality stadium resulted in a congregation of 60,642 worshippers from all parts of the country and beyond.

One definition of judgement day is “The time of the last judgement, the end of the world”, and as the Ospreys trudged off the field after their defeat in the opening game,the end of the world appeared to be an extremely apt description of their collective mood.

As for Cardiff Blues, well the book of revelation would not have done justice to their  incredible 35-17 victory, scoring five tries in the process, and from the moment the Ospreys defence parted like the Red Sea, in the 6th minute, there was only one team in it.

Blues led 21-3 at half time and after 46 minutes were 35-3 ahead to the disbelief of everyone present.

Two late tries from the Ospreys gave the scoreboard a less embarrassing look, but this was a good old-fashioned thrashing make no mistake.
Sadly we went from feast to famine in the second game of the day , a Scarlets v Newport Gwent Dragons encounter that made watching paint dry seem like a white knuckle ride in comparison.

Two penalties apiece made it  6-6 at the interval, the most exciting break in a dire first half came from a pitch invader, who even ten minutes into the second half , was still favourite for the man of the match award.

Fortunately after a Jon Davies try on the hour mark, Liam Williams woke us from our slumber with a try and a place kicking display that revealed his ability to hit goalposts from a variety of angles and distances.

In the 79th minute a sweeping move from the Dragons ended with a superb try from Hughes which was without doubt the highlight of this turgid affair


A win for Scarlets that cements their play off hopes, but a huge disappointment for the crowd that was expecting much more in the way of excitement from such a talented back division.

Making his 150th Pro 12 refereeing appearance in the match was Wales’ national treasure Nigel Owens, a remarkable statistic from a remarkable man.

An afternoon under the closed roof of the principality stadium drew to a close, and as the masses exited the dark bowl, blinking into the bright blinding low evening sunlight, the talk of Dragons becoming extinct was on everyone’s lips, a proud rugby land without Dragons ? Blasphemy surely.

Lions In Syon The Mane Event


In the space of two days this week we have witnessed the best and worst kept secrets of 2017 thus far.

On Tuesday Teresa May announced a general election, to everyone’s surprise, whilst on Wednesday morning Sam Warburton was officially revealed as captain of the 2017 British & Irish lions, hours after the head of world rugby had congratulated him, on Twitter on, his appointment, and various photos were posted showing Sam with the Lions management at the Syon Park hotel in his full Lions kit.

Despite this major leak, there was still a huge sense of anticipation on a sunny spring morning at the Syon Park Hilton in south-west London, as Warren Gatland  unveiled the 41 man squad for the 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand.


A huge media presence gathered to watch the announcement made by tour manager John Spencer, who revealed one by one the names of the 16 English, 12 Welsh, 11 Irish and two Scots that will carry the hopes and dreams of thousands of fans in the land of the long white cloud this summer.


The squad consists of 22 forwards and 19 backs, with Maro Itoje the youngest player at the age of 22.

On his choice of Warburton as captain Gatland had this to say:

“Sam is a great player, an outstanding leader and a winning Lions captain”.

“We believe that Sam’s experience and leadership qualities make him an obvious choice as captain. He has earned the respect of his peers and coaches through his resilience, tenacity and hard work.”


On the eve of the announcement Warburton attended a private dinner with all the living Lions captains in the Hilton Syon Park.

 
The modest and delightful young man had this to say  ”

“Being in the same room as so many Lions legends was an amazing experience. I feel humbled and extremely proud to be given the opportunity to captain the Lions for a second Tour and look forward to playing the world champions on their own turf with the best players of the UK and Ireland at my side.”

Sam is such a humble character he may not realise he is actually a Lions legend himself.


Having spoken to Warren, Graham Rowntree and Rob Howley it is evident that the selection of the tour party was a difficult and demanding process and they all felt the weight of responsibility on their shoulders, people may disagree with some of their choices,  but it would be very difficult to question the integrity of the process.

So there we have it, after months of speculation the Lions are raring, or should that be roaring to go.

The Tour Party

Backs

Dan Biggar – Ospreys, Wales

Elliot Daly – Wasps, England

Jonathan Davies – Scarlets, Wales, Lions #778

Owen Farrell – Saracens, England, Lions #780

Leigh Halfpenny – Toulon, Wales, Lions #775

Robbie Henshaw – Leinster Rugby, Ireland

Stuart Hogg – Glasgow Warriors, Scotland, Lions #783

Jonathan Joseph – Bath Rugby, England

Conor Murray – Munster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #790

George North – Northampton Saints, Wales, Lions #792

Jack Nowell – Exeter Chiefs, England

Jared Payne – Ulster Rugby, Ireland

Jonathan Sexton – Leinster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #791

Tommy Seymour – Glasgow Warriors, Scotland

Ben Te’o – Worcester Warriors, England

Anthony Watson – Bath Rugby, England

Rhys Webb – Ospreys, Wales

Liam Williams – Scarlets, Wales

Ben Youngs – Leicester Tigers, England, Lions #799

 

Forwards

Rory Best – Ulster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #793

Dan Cole – Leicester Tigers, England, Lions #794

Taulupe Faletau – Bath Rugby, Wales, Lions #779

Tadhg Furlong – Leinster Rugby, Ireland

Jamie George – Saracens, England

Iain Henderson – Ulster Rugby, Ireland

Maro Itoje – Saracens, England

Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys, Wales, Lions #761

George Kruis – Saracens, England

Courtney Lawes – Northampton Saints, England

Joe Marler – Harlequins, England

Jack McGrath – Leinster Rugby, Ireland

Ross Moriarty – Gloucester Rugby, Wales

Sean O’Brien – Leinster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #796

Peter O’Mahony – Munster Rugby, Ireland

Ken Owens – Scarlets, Wales

Kyle Sinckler – Harlequins, England

CJ Stander – Munster Rugby, Ireland

Justin Tipuric – Ospreys, Wales, Lions #786

Mako Vunipola – Saracens, England, Lions #787

Billy Vunipola – Saracens, England

Sam Warburton (Captain) – Cardiff Blues, Wales, Lions #800

Don’t Let Condensation Ruin The Six Nations


I heard last week that plans to condense the six nations are gathering momentum.

Condensation is a dreadful thing, just ask Craig Doyle of BT Rugby, maybe he can use contacts from his old job to double glaze the tournament and prevent this condensation from happening.

This is your Everest boys as Jim Telfer would say.

Ian Richie the CEO of England rugby supports plans to reduce the tournament’s length, and play it over five consecutive weekends

Unlike his namesake, Lionel, I’m not exactly dancing on the ceiling at the prospect


Richie says

We believe it is perfectly right to have a six-week competition as opposed to seven, it would narrow the off periods and help with the broader narrative, we think it would improve it”

I have to confess I have no idea what a broader narrative is, in this case, and even less of an idea as to whether or not it would be helped, but I do know that once again player welfare has been kicked into touch, and that is as broad a narrative as I need.

England with their strength in-depth may be the only home nation to benefit from such a reduction in recovery time, so maybe this is a factor in Richie’s stance.

Can you imagine  having to play the following weekend after the brutal Wales v Ireland encounter ?

Even more so in the case of the Scottish players, who suffered multiple injuries against England, having to return to action six days after the Twickenham clash would be a massive disadvantage.

The six nations board meet in April, and are expected to ratify plans to adopt a six-week tournament from 2020, with only a one week break between the third and fourth rounds

The old saying if it ain’t broken don’t fix it seems a very apt one in relation to the six nations tournament.

 

RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE TWITTER POLL


Last week Rugby world posted a tweet asking “where was the furthest distance anyone had travelled to watch a rugby match”

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I didn’t feel remotely qualified to answer this question, as all my rugby life on and off the field has been spent in Europe.

 
Then it suddenly dawned on me that I must have travelled further than anyone, because following Wales for forty nine years has taken me to hell and back, and that is quite a distance.

Gerald Davies Hawkes Bay Vintage 1971 

Hawkes Bay is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s north island.

The hot summers and cool winters provide excellent weather for growing the grapes that provide the areas famous wines, particularly the highly regarded Cabernet Merlot blends.

It is also one of the most seismically active regions of New Zealand and has had around fifty notable earthquakes since the 1880’s.

However on Saturday July 17th, at McLean park, Napier, the earth moved for an entirely different reason when the British Lions came to town.

The epicentre of this phenomenon was a certain Welshman, Thomas Gerald Reames Davies.

This was the 19th match of the Lions tour they had already played two tests against the all Blacks with one victory and one defeat and were building up for the third test in which Gerald was to figure prominently.

Referees in those days were not neutral and one of the main remits of mid week teams was to beat the living daylights out of the touring team in preparation for their next match against the All Blacks, Hawkes Bay proved no exception in a thoroughly nasty match.

Amidst the darkness of brutality and violence there shone the golden bright light of sheer rugby beauty by the man from Llansaint.

Gerald scored three first half tries whilst on the right wing and one late in the second half whilst playing at centre, when Mike Gibson went off with an injured hamstring.

His first try came from a Hawkes Bay dropped goal attempt that bounced off the posts gathered by JPR, the ball went through six pairs of hands before Gerald Davies touched down.

The second try followed a chip through from Mike Gibson which Davies gathered before touching down to score.

Gareth Edwards long pass from a blind side ruck went to Davies who shimmied and sidestepped half of Napier before touching down with defenders spreadeagled all around him,his third try of the first half.


 

A fourth try came in the second half helping the Lions to a 25-6 win in a brutal encounter 

Dai Smith’s words from “Fields of Praise” written in 1980 beautifully encapsulate Gerlad Davies, the rugby player, I find it hard to comprehend, that I last saw him play thirty nine years ago, where has the time gone ?

Gerald Davies was poised on the field, his element, until the moment to switch and dart like a fish came. He sidestepped at a speed whose rapidity still never made him lose control, to left or right, squeezing fearlessly through eye of the needle gaps that no defence could cover, for no one else could have gone through them.

When his markers knew his intentions they could not master the execution of his desire, when he was checked in that one to one confrontation which comes to wing three quarters more than other players he was supremely brave, moving in close and quickly before, ingenuously and bewilderingly , pausing, absolutely and fractionally, only to shoot away.
Like the flickering tongue of a fly eating lizard he was nakedly on show, and then retracted to his own satisfaction, all in an instant.

His thighs were strong, despite a frail upper body, so that he could, if held, breakthrough any half grasping hands whilst his own understanding of physical limitations, that would have made head on bone crushing tackles either foolishly inept or worse, counter-productive, never made him an easy man to elude.

The lurking feline presence of Gerald Davies could instil a wary trepidation that let others in through less guarded entrances.

As the Lions head to the land of the long white cloud this summer, I will raise a glass of Cabernet Merlot to the memory of that magical day back in 1971, a Hawkes bay vintage indeed.

The Lions King Stephen Jones 


In my previous life the pain of working a night shift on a Saturday was always eased when, as dawn broke on Sunday morning, the newspapers would arrive at Heathrow airport.

As a customs officer, I was always strategically positioned to get the first copy of the Sunday Times, and as I sat bleary eyed and exhausted with my Costa latte, I would reach for the sports section and head straight for Stephen Jones.

Years later I find myself in the same line of work as my literary hero, albeit further down the food chain, and this transformation has resulted in that long time hero of mine becoming my friend, and that, for me was worth the career change alone.

As the Lions tour to New Zealand looms ever closer, the man himself prepares to meet the challenge of pressurised deadlines, and to negotiate the inevitable logistical problems, that reporting on a major rugby tour will bring, but when you mention the Lions, his eyes light up.

In ten days time the 2017 British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand will be announced, but the Sunday Times top rugby writers selection was a certainty and has never been in doubt.

Steve is about to embark on his ninth Lions tour as a journalist, and as we sat in a Bracknell coffee shop depleting the stores pastries in our customary manner, he revealed some of the joys and pain he has encountered since his first tour, to New Zealand in 1983

When asked about his favourite Lions tour he told me that there were many favourites for a variety of different reasons, but the first one in 1983,for the wide eyed wonderment of it all would probably edge it.


At this stage of the interview we struck a major problem, the cafes supply of croissants had been depleted, but Steve ever the professional switched to a couple of coconut topped flapjacks with consummate ease.

The interview then turned into a re run of the famous Barry John and Gareth Edwards meeting prior to their first Welsh international match together, where the plan was to discuss tactics and ideas, and ended up with Barry John saying “You just throw it Gar, and I’ll catch it”

Well Steve threw it, and I caught some of it, from the Springboks being out muscled by the Lions in 1997, and despite the defeats, the respect of the South Africa supporters shown to the Lions, unlike the booing by All Blacks fans as the men in red entered the field of play in latter years.


The fact is you could write a whole book on the man’s Lions experiences, and when his autobiography comes out in years to come it is going to be one heck of a read.

In the May edition of Rugby World magazine Steve writes about his favourite Lions memories, including his persuit of an armed bank robber in Wellington, where the welshmans lack of pace was cruelly exposed.


In the meantime check out his e book “Stephen Jones 30 years of rugby” from which the extracts above were taken, it’s well worth a read.


Also just released an updated paperback version of Behind the Lions just the thing to prepare you for the 2017 tour.


Both publications are available from Amazon for very reasonable prices

I hope to catch up with Steve after this years tour, so stay tuned later this summer,for more from the Lions king.

France Find Their Bite In Six Nations Finale

The final weekend of the RBS 6 nations, the tournament that straddles the seasons turning  winter into spring.

As with age, this years tournament seems to have passed by even quicker than ever.

This weekend I let the train take the strain and headed to Paris for France v Wales, an encounter which in my youth, invariably decided the outcome of the 5 nations tournament as it was then named.

The title always seemed to go to which ever team had home advantage that year, and the titles transferred hands on an almost annual basis.

A lot of water has passed under the pont neuf since then, and on this super Saturday the encounter had moved down the billing, and was the mid table fixture sandwiched between the wooden spoon and title winners.

A grey blanket hung over the Stade de France with a light drizzle falling since early morning, it looked more Pontypridd than Paris.

An early try by France looked ominous, but Leigh Halfpenny’s boot kept Wales in touch


To cut a long story short, a pretty scrappy uneventful match came to life in the last twenty minutes, unbelievably these were twenty minutes of stoppage time, during which the controversy increased minute by minute.

The match finally ended on 99.55 minutes, (more injury time than a M*A*S*H box set), when Damien Chouly went over for a French try, following eight penalties, one free kick and twelve scrums for the home side.


George North who has now got his bark back, was bitten by a French player, who was unable to be identified by the TMO.


This disgraceful incident may go unpunished due to lack of television footage, but the mark on North’s arm leaves no doubt that it took place, and French comments that it was self-inflicted, if not so hideous, would be laughable.

To add insult to injury France manufactured a way, to get their first choice prop, Rabah Slimani, back on for the vital scrums, when the French doctor Philippe Turblin insisted Antonio go off for a head injury assessment, which he duly did, whilst limping and clutching his groin, thank goodness for the hippocratic oath.

Prior to the change,one of the French coaches could be seen leaving the technical area, to speak to the doctor who then ran on to the field to withdraw Antonio.

Rob Howley the most affable and mild-mannered man you could ever wish to meet had the eyes of a cheated and incensed man, at the press conference following the game, he accused France of bringing the integrity of the game in to disrepute.


In fairness Wales were poor, they hardly threatened the French line, and once again too many basic errors cost them dearly, along with a scrum that was like a blancmange in the face of the gargantuan French eight.

So Spring is here, but Wales left Paris with very little bounce in their step

Au Revoir mes amis