Irvine puts Lions on notice
Irvine puts Lions on noticeSHARE
Andy Irvine has issued a stern warning to all would-be British & Irish Lions players to prepare for "the toughest Lions tour since 1993" when they head to Australia this year.
The Lions' record points scorer will lead the 2013 party to Australia as tour manager and is convinced the adventure will be the toughest test for any touring team in 20 years.
"We are under no illusions at all about how difficult this tour is going to be. If the Wallabies are back to full fitness they will be a mighty force in the Test series," said Irvine.
"Twelve years ago some of the midweek games were a walk in the park, but there is no way that is going to be the case in 2013. We will be playing the cream of Australian professional rugby week-in, week-out.
"There won't be any easy games. We play all five of their Super Rugby franchises and a combined team from New South Wales and Queensland.
"Facing the Lions will be their cup final and we know they are already plotting our downfall. The top players in Australia have made no secret of the fact they want to play against the Lions and try to emulate the success of John Eales' side in winning the 2001 series.
"Many of them have shunned lucrative offers to play overseas to ensure they get their shot at an historic win over the Lions. That's why I think the 2013 tour will be the toughest the Lions have undertaken since 1993."
Gavin Hastings led the Lions to New Zealand in '93 for a tour that included 13 matches. As well as the three-Test series, which the All Blacks won 2-1, the Lions faced nine of New Zealand's top provincial sides, losing to four of them.
Each tour since then has featured matches against combined teams in which the Lions have often run riot. In 1997, there were three wins of more than 50 points, in 2001, the tour kicked-off in Perth with the Lions' first 100 point score-line, a 116-10 triumph over Western Australia, and in 2005 they beat Manawatu 109-6.
The Lions hit a century on the first game of their last tour to Australia
They didn't meet any of the Super Rugby sides in New Zealand in 2005 and four years ago in South Africa they faced three combined sides and beat the Golden Lions 74-10. In 2013 there will be no hiding place.
"We are pretty happy with where we are with our planning and over the next two weeks the senior management team will be in Australia visiting every hotel, training facility and match venue," explained Irvine.
"When we return, we will be all set for the RBS 6 Nations campaign. That is something we are all very much looking forward to.
"Being brutally honest, the start to the Autumn Internationals was disappointing from a Lions point of view, but it got a lot better towards the end. Ireland were electrifying against Argentina, Wales got close once again to beating Australia and England were simply magnificent against New Zealand.
"There were no excuses from the All Blacks after their beating at Twickenham. They admitted they were beaten by a side that played beyond all expectations."
Irvine will become the 11th Lions player to become tour manager and this summer's 125th anniversary tour will be his first to Australia., As a player, he made 42 appearances for the Lions in South Africa in 1974, New Zealand in 1977 and South Africa again in 1980.
"I would have loved to have toured Australia with a Lions side during my playing days. I always loved the way the Wallabies approached and played the game.
"When you go to South Africa and New Zealand you find there is huge emphasis on forward domination. In Australia, the game is far more free-flowing and creative.
"They have some outstanding athletes in their current squad and have one of two fantastic playmakers. I think the series this sum