Five tour flashpoints

Fri, 26 May 2017 16:12
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B&I LIONS IN NEW ZEALAND: British and Irish Lions tours have seen their share of controversies ever since the first touring party set foot on New Zealand soil in 1888.

Here are five famous flashpoints:

THAT tackle on Brian O'Driscoll, 2005:

The Lions Test series in 2005 began with one of the most controversial tackles in the game's history, when Brian O'Driscoll was driven head-first into the Christchurch turf by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu off the ball just seconds after the opening kick off. The Lions captain suffered a dislocated shoulder and was sidelined for six months. O'Driscoll accused New Zealand of targeting him "in cold blood", but the New Zealanders denied any ill intent -* and the Kiwi public saw the furore as an attempt to distract attention from the Lions' poor on-field performances, as they were whitewashed 3-0. The tackle was still generating rancour years later, with Umaga calling O'Driscoll a "sook" (cry baby) in his autobiography and Mealamu saying he felt "stink" (bad) that the controversy eclipsed his team's stellar performance.

The Battle of Lancaster Park, 1971:

The 1971 tourists are the only Lions side to win a Test series in New Zealand, but only after a brutal warm-up against Canterbury. Britain's Daily Telegraph described it as "one of the bloodiest, most premeditated assaults in rugby history". The Lions had defeated seven opponents before facing Canterbury and the South Island team were determined to slow their momentum. The match, played in front of a partisan crowd of 53,000, became known as the Battle of Lancaster Park, with the legendary Welsh scrumhalf Gareth Edwards later saying it was one of the few times he had been scared on a rugby field. Edwards said Canterbury's hulking flanker Alex "Grizz" Wyllie set the tone. "He tried to decapitate me and almost did," Edwards recalled. By the final whistle, three Lions forwards had suffered tour-ending injuries, while flanker Fergus Slattery was concussed and missing two teeth. But the Lions won the match 14-3 and went on to defeat the All Blacks in Dunedin and Wellington for a famous 2-1 series victory.

The Wellington unpleasantness, 1888:

The first Lions tour in 1888 also saw heated accusations of foul play, but this time the tourists were on the receiving end. After a 3-3 draw with Wellington, the New Zealand Times accused them of using "disgraceful language" and not acting like gentlemen. "They started on Saturday to play a rough game in which 'hacking' (kicking opponents' legs) and 'scragging' (tackling around the neck) were the most notable features, and were deservedly hooted in consequence". Worse was to come in their second match in the capital, when the tourists' centre Henry Speakman dived to the ground trying to fool the referee into believing he had been tackled. Opposing forward Edmund Whatman crashed into him, breaking his leg so badly that bone protruded from flesh. Whatman, a local farmer, never played rugby again. The tour was closely watched in Britain's colonies and Melbourne's Argus newspaper argued "the Wellington unpleasantness" was evidence Australian rules was a superior game to rugby.

 A travesty of justice, 1959:

The All Blacks' 18-17 victory over the 1959 Lions in the first Test in Dunedin was so controversial that it was viewed as an embarrassment by many New Zealanders and prompted calls to reform the laws of the game. The Lions ran in four tries to none and were clearly the superior team. However, tries at that time were worth only three points, not five, so New Zealand's six penalties secured the win. If modern scoring was applied, the Lions would have won 25–18. The tourists also received some harsh calls from local referee Alan Fleury, officiating his first and only international match. The late Kiwi rugby writer Terry McLean said there were unprecedented scenes as more than 40,000 All Black fans chanted "Red! Red! Red!" in a vain effort to cheer the Lions to victory in the dying minutes. Dunedin's Evening Star said "the saddest rugby Test that had ever been played in New Zealand took place this afternoon", while Wellington's Dominion concluded "it was a travesty of justice that they should be a Test down". It was not until 1973 that the value of a try was boosted to four points, then increased again to five in 1992.

Dirt Tracker debacle, 1993:

The 1993 Lions found themselves split into two informal groups: the Test players and the so-called "Dirt Trackers" -* second stringers who played mid-week matches against provincial teams. It was the last tour of the amateur era and many of the Dirt Trackers, disheartened at their lack of Test prospects, simply went into party mode. "Some gave the impression they were on holiday...  it was safe to say they drank too much," said Wales and Lions wing Ieuan Evans. There were a string of mid-week losses to Otago, Auckland and Hawke's Bay, culminating in a 38-10 thrashing by Waikato. The 2017 Lions coach Warren Gatland played hooker for Waikato and scored one of their five tries. However, some of the second-stringers retained their passion, including their English captain Stuart Barnes, who blasted his players after the loss to Hawke's Bay. "I could never contemplate giving up like some of them did. I feel humiliated," he said.

Agence France-Presse

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