The British and Irish Lions
April 5, 2005 3:31 PM   Subscribe

The British and Irish Lions tour the remote South Pacific nation of New Zealand once every 12 years. Rugby is like a religion on these islands and the rich history and intense rivalry between the Lions and the All Blacks will combine to make this the single biggest event in New Zealand’s history. New Zealand will be bursting at the seems during the tour and the economy, already buoyant will get another boost.
posted by Samuel Farrow (33 comments total)
I'm almost ready to sell my house to head out there man.

I must say though college rugby here in the states is going thru some disturbing league like trends.

It's not even the smash-mouth rugby it was in my youth. Scrum-hats are becoming vogue.

Terrible and strange. But good fun to watch. I don't get the stopping after a tackle thing in league rules. And no lineouts? *sigh*
posted by Smedleyman at 3:43 PM on April 5, 2005

Pesky lack of money keeping me from my Rugby jones. I wonder if there are any low-rent tours out there from the states for low-rent folks such as myself.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:46 PM on April 5, 2005

It's all about the silver fern baby. My area has a team, the Bayonne Bombers, and I encourage everyone out there to go out and support your local rugby club. My dad is a Kiwi and ex rugger, and has been completely non-communicative unless it is discussing the matches.

For those in the NYC area, a bunch of us are heading to Hartford, CT in June to watch the US squad take on the powerful Welsh team. Get in touch with me for details.
posted by remlapm at 4:06 PM on April 5, 2005

Also, Samuel Farrow, I can't tell if you are being sarcastic, but I'm not sure New Zealand enjoys being called 'remote', and this is far, far from being the biggest event in their history (even if we are only talking sports). They like their rubgy, to be sure, but this Lions squad are no Springboks of years past.
posted by remlapm at 4:17 PM on April 5, 2005

I'll second remlapm that it's not very fair to say this will be the biggest event in our history, but it is likely to overshadow this year's general election. Last I heard we're expecting 30,000 to 40,000 touring Lions fans, which will be quite noticeable considering they'll be visiting some towns with a similar population, and the fact they don't stop singing.

Smedleyman, assuming "Scrum-hats" are what we call "head gear", these are very common in all grades of rugby union now (the kind of rugby the All Blacks play; rugby league's a different, inferior and degenerate game) and even padded body armour (worn under the jersey) is becoming quite widely used. Not really considered as wimpy as it was 10-20 years ago.
posted by nihotaniwha at 4:28 PM on April 5, 2005

remlapm - mate, having recently returned home to New Zealand from the UK - and sitting through the long long flight over miles and miles of water - I believe I am qualified to call my country remote. The distance between NZ and our closest neighbour Australia is the same as the distance between London and Moscow.

May stand corrected on "biggest" - but just an issue of semantics.

I can't wait!
posted by Samuel Farrow at 4:31 PM on April 5, 2005

nihotaniwha - ah, I see the error in communications here, what you call "head gear" we call "black electrical tape."
I'm not too comfortable with padding. Partly because I'm "old school" but also partly because all the injuries I've had have not been the result of impact.
I played football until I got to college (played for about a week), and that is definately an impact injury causing.
Rugby - as a for instance - I tore the cartilage between my ribs in a scrum (I was tighthead prop). Padding wouldn't have helped.
I think it can make you feel a little invincible instead of having your head in the game. That and too many guys undertrain.

I think we're dead on balls in terms of our common dislike of league.

I've still got two old style All Black shirts (tore the sleeves off one for the summer).

Anyone been from the US to NZ? Rough trip?
I've heard things....scary things...
posted by Smedleyman at 4:51 PM on April 5, 2005

heh, was reading this while wearing my All Blacks cap I acquired on a trip to NZ in '01. Been wanting to emigrate ever since. I'd hardly consider "remote" to be pejorative, in fact I have a predilection for remote places. Is good.

Smedleyman, do you mean just the physical traveling? It's long but not too bad. 'bout 12 hours from LAX to Auckland. Just gotta get in a luggage mindset.
posted by edgeways at 4:53 PM on April 5, 2005

Look for a plethora of Welshmen on the Lions for this event, following their splendid Grand Slam in the Six Nations...I live in Virginia, and saw 4 of the matches (lamentably, was away for the magnificent victory against the French, but did see the inspirational win against England.)

Martyn Williams is all but certain to be a Lion, and I'd be surprised if Gavin Henson isn't either...he had a magnificent Six Nations, and his penalty kick that beat England was one of the best things I've ever seen in sports.
posted by 1016 at 5:01 PM on April 5, 2005

It's not even the smash-mouth rugby it was in my youth. Scrum-hats are becoming vogue.

Three years ago in high school, I played for a small two-school combined club in Omaha, NE called Griffin United. We never heard about pads, and I think the team jerseys were about ten years old. Shit was pulled during games that I'm pretty sure you don't see at the college or professional level; cleating your opponent in the shins, punching with your free hand in a maul, etc. This was rarely penalized, and although our coach encouraged us to play like gentlemen, I always found it hard not to retaliate. Rugby isn't televised in my part of the US and college barely leaves me enough time for the gym and running, so I'm out of touch with the sport at this point, but that was my experience.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 5:10 PM on April 5, 2005

I have got an oldskool England Rugby jumper (white with the single red rose). It must have been one of the very last ones before they started adding sponsorship logos and red stripes and so forth.

I cut quite a fine figure in it, too.

And my bestest American friend is a Rugby nut. Big shout out to UConn rugby and the Hartford Wanderers. (Until I met him, I didn't realize that there was such an underground following over there.)

Thankyou, that will be all.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:20 PM on April 5, 2005

Yes edgeways , just the physical trip. I suppose I could dose myself with downers. I'm not afraid of flying, but boredom scares the hell out of me. I'm not big on in-flight movies either. (I'm like a shark, I stop moving I drop dead)

"cleating your opponent in the shins, punching with your free hand in a maul, etc"
- All good clean fun.

As long as it's nothing permanant. I'm on the fence when it comes to grabbing testicles. While I see it's efficacy in recovering the ball, I don't want to make anyone's kids come out stupid. I don't do it myself. Seems too effete. Plus you'll get payback, so it's probably where the line is drawn.
The key is not to hold a grudge after the game. That and the beer helps.

And if you play a good hard physical game - really, you don't need the cheap shots. (I love the game, but I'm not very good, so...).
What bugs me is the modern game seems to sacrifice toughness for finesse.
Passes win games, but I like hitting people and watching people hit people.

uncanny hengeman - I love those red rose hoops man, they're built for backs though, they don't compliment the contours of us forward types.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:45 PM on April 5, 2005

Eh. In a world of 747's, nothing's remote. Personally, I'd be more inclined to had the remote title to places north of the Arctic circle, deeper portions of Africa, etc. Places where your only link to modern 1st world folks is a Iridium phone. NZ is only 12 hours from Los Angeles; on the typical overnight flight you can probably sleep for 6 of it. And as for distance to Aussie, it's about the same as California to Texas, not really that far in the big scheme of things. Heck, I felt more out of touch on the Alaska highway through Canada than I ever have here.
posted by ehintz at 6:35 PM on April 5, 2005

Lions tour should be top notch. Go The All Blacks! Hopefully there will be some way to watch it in the states that will not cost a fortune.

As for the flight to NZ. I flew from NYC to LA (6 hours) then LA to Auckland (12 hours) and Auckland to Wellington by train (10 hours) straight through. Proceeded to take a quick shower and go out to dinner, then drank with my mates 'till 5am. Best part was I had to be on the ferry to the South Island by 9am. Belive it or not I did not feel bad at all. Of course, I slept most of the next day but, felt great after that. If your claustrophobic don't fly coach!
posted by remo at 7:03 PM on April 5, 2005

Public tickets for the matches were always going to be hard to come by, so the respective rugby unions held lotteries to decide who could purchase them. My number came up in the ballot, so June 15th I'm at the stadium in Wellington, watching the ABs wallop the northern team. Hurrah!
posted by John Shaft at 8:41 PM on April 5, 2005

Shit was pulled during games that I'm pretty sure you don't see at the college or professional level; cleating your opponent in the shins, punching with your free hand in a maul, etc.

You do see it less -- but only because they're wilier at those levels.

Smedleyman: The trend in the southern hemisphere (at least) is more and more towards a fast, "hit-up" style of rugby with the players and the tackles getting bigger and bigger, so you shouldn't be disappointed for too long. Watch an AB match from, say, the first World Cup in 87 and they all look laughably petit.
posted by nihotaniwha at 11:09 PM on April 5, 2005

I can't wait, but I do fear a bit for the Lions. The quality of the 6 Nations was not that high with France and England still rebuilding for the next World Cup, Ireland failing to live up to expectations, and Scotland and Italy succeeding in living down to expectations.

I must be one of the few rugby fans in the world with no preference for either league or union. From where I'm from, there are no professional clubs of either code.
posted by salmacis at 1:23 AM on April 6, 2005

I watch a bit of of the National Rugby League here in Oz, which I believe is the highest standard league comp in the world. I don't enjoy it half as much as watching a Union game but it has it's moments. In particular, I rarely miss the State of Origin competition, an annual battle fought between New South Wales and Queensland - some of the toughest games in sport I've ever witnessed.

I wasn't aware of this upcoming tour by the Lions so thanks for the heads up Samuel!
posted by Onanist at 1:43 AM on April 6, 2005

Being an American ex-pat in NZ, I don't know if I'm qualified to say, but it seems like the Lions tour won't be as big a deal as people expect.

In the past, the Lions would play both the All Blacks and smaller provincial clubs. They are doing the same this year, but rumor has it only their "B" team will play the club/provincial matches during the week, while they will save their "A" team for the three weekend tests against the ABs. Some Kiwis I've spoken to see it as a rip-off and are therefore less inclined to get excited about the tour.

That being said, their A team will still be awesome. England and France may be rebuilding, but Wales was probably the best team in the world in 2004 (they only lost to the ABs by a point in Cardiff). A mostly Welch Lions team will be no pushover.
posted by newscouch at 2:20 AM on April 6, 2005

The trend in the southern hemisphere (at least) is more and more towards a fast, "hit-up" style of rugby with the players and the tackles getting bigger and bigger

This has lead to one of the biggest dilemas for the Lions coaching staff. Do they load the team with aging England players and take the ABs on at their own game, or choose the Welsh diddymen and avoid the tackle area, which is how Wales won the Grand Slam.

Personally I believe they will go for option A and be destroyed in the first test, then choose option B and win the next two.

To add drama to the tour the AB coaches are the ones who designed the Wales style of play.
posted by fullerine at 2:29 AM on April 6, 2005

posted by dydecker at 2:57 AM on April 6, 2005

cleating your opponent in the shins If that bitch is lying all over the ball then it's called rucking(if you're playing in the southern hemisphere anyway).

Wales was probably the best team in the world in 2004 (they only lost to the ABs by a point in Cardiff). That's some interesting logic at work there, lost to the All Blacks but were better than them. Let's not forget too that that ABs team was barely second string, most of the best players were left at home. It would be foolish for the Lions not to be heavily weighted to the Welsh. The English were just dreadful in the Six Nations. Either way I think the ABs will be too good(but not by much).

I guess that NZ is remote in that, it's not on the way to anywhere, you only go to NZ to go to NZ, never on the way to somewhere else(except maybe Antarctica).
posted by isthisthingon at 3:48 AM on April 6, 2005

I don't get the stopping after a tackle thing in league rules.

All codes of football are really defined by what happens at the tackle. In Union, the player carrying the ball is 'dead', i.e out of the game. In League, the ball is dead and the has to be brought back in to play. Think about what happens after tackles in other codes you know and you'll see how it is the overwhelming influence on everything that goes on in the game.

I don't have any figures to hand, but the last time I saw any (which were based on Union and League prior to Union's decision to go professionalism and League's greater influence over how Union is played) the ball was generally in play for 50 minutes of an 80 minute game of League and in play for 30 minutes of an 80 minute game of Union. The figures came from Phil Larder, now in the England Union coaching set up but previously a League coach.

I don't want to turn this in to a League v Union argument, I'm a fan of both codes and find such things petty, idiotic and as much to do with unthinking prejudice built up over the last 110 years as it is to do with any real analysis of what goes on in either code.

For all that League is a 'degenerate' game though, it's interesting to see the country with the largest number of RU clubs in the world buy a 31 year old player with only one working leg from League to revitalise their 6N and WC chances.

FWIW, I'm from Bradford and grew up with League but play both for social teams against whoever will give us a game.

Also FWIW, I'm a Bradford Bulls fan. I find it hilarious that as soon as Iestyn Harris signed for us Wales won the 6N. :D
posted by vbfg at 5:48 AM on April 6, 2005

vfbg: Andy Farrell is a cracking rugby player. If (and it's big if) he can get back to full fitness and learn the tactics of Union, he will be an asset to any rugby team in the world, league or union.
posted by salmacis at 8:09 AM on April 6, 2005

I don't disagree, salmacis, really I don't. Farrell has had plenty of bad raps from me over the years for hiding on the wing on occassions when the going gets tough, in internationals especially, but he is genuine quality and for a few years he has occassionally been the entire Wigan team on his own.

My point is this, and please don't take what follows as a rant against you or anyone else posting on this thread. It's aimed at everyone who has ever dissed Rugby League. ;). League has been hearing for years about what a degenerate little game it is, lacking in many of the skills you associate with Union. The forwards aren't forwards, there is no second phase, the scrums are a joke, etc. You're familiar with the arguments I'm sure.

The most respect I can offer to these opinions is to disregard them as ill-informed bollocks, and in many cases the cause is the kind of prejudice that also meant for most of the last 110 years playing League at all ruled you out of ever being able to play Union. Tainted with money you see, whether you were paid or not.

It is true that scrums are different in League to Union. Scrums serve a different purpose in League than they do to Union, and have done for a long time. They take the forwards out of the game, and that's it. Anyone who has seen State of Origin or similarly competitive games will understand the reasons for this. Nobody pretends it's a competition for the ball, you're getting it back soon anyway.

It's also true that forwards do different things. Again, not too much of a surprise given the different roles they perform. Yes there are 'props', no they do not 'prop'. The names are historical. Yes there are hookers, no they do not hook. Again, historical names. The hooker is as much a half back in RL as he is a forward.

No opportunities for second phase play is a common Unionista argument. Often it comes from the same people who deride the presence of the 'dead' ball at the tackle and the play the ball. So knowledgable are they about Rugby and phased play they don't see the paradox in what they are saying. The whole game is about linking your six phases together as effectively as you can whilst maintaining position and posession.

Rugby League is degenerate of nothing, it has been its own game ever since they decided the ball would die rather than the possessing player at the tackle. This happened in 1907, and the games have been different ever since in everyone's mind except those who felt betrayed by the split and have sought to damage League at every opportunity ever since. Thankfully those days are largely behind us (except in France).

As I said, I like both codes. What I don't like is fans from either code belittling the other game for no other reason than they happen to like one over the other. The enemy is soccer, get over yourselves.

Having said all that, I do expect to see a merged game of Rugby at some point in the future. It's years away but I suspect it will happen eventually. It might be called Rugby Union, the HQ might be at Twickenham and it might be followed by all kinds of hooray henrys reminiscing about bygone heroes they've heard of but know nothing about. The game that will be played at the top level though will resemble Rugby League more than it resembles Rugby Union, a process already under way within the 15 man game. The amateur games wil hold out for longer but they too will succumb.

Anyhoo, now that I've done what I said I wouldn't do I shall wonder off in to the distance. ;)
posted by vbfg at 10:16 AM on April 6, 2005

Then I'll come back, slightly shame faced, and then I'll wander off instead.
posted by vbfg at 10:23 AM on April 6, 2005

vbfg - good points. I just have a preference for the ball remaining in play. Matter of taste really. (I personally don't take it beyond the good natured ribbing).
The union game seems to move faster though
I enjoy, for example, sevens play even though it's hard to keep up with the speedsters.

I still enjoy playing American football but it seems a bit slow to me. And it's unGodly to watch on television. I can't even watch a regular season games because it's 3/4 commercials and commentary and they cut away from plays in action to do short interviews with players.
Fox's Rugby coverage is tolerable (it has to be, it's all I get).
And just shows pretty much the field and follows the ball, kind of like American football coverage in the 70s.

Hopefully Rugby doesn't change to conform to coverage. American football certainly seems to have.

Soccer is the enemy vbfg ? I suppose so, but converted soccer players in the states here are gifts from Heaven (great toes, lots of wind, bring good looking girls to the pitch) compared to tackle obsessed keg sitting ex-footballers like myself.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:50 PM on April 6, 2005

The League versus Union argument in a funny one, and the points VBFG raises make sense. I think In NZ it is too easy to view it as an Oz versus NZ issue – or and Auckland versus RONZ (Rest of New Zealand) issue. I am originally from the parochial city of Christchurch and Auckland is a particularly emotional issue – (can’t trust those Ozzies to do ANYTHING right).

The State of Origin has to be about the best game of football of any code anywhere in the world, however, and if you ever wanted to watch a game of League this would be the one to watch.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:09 PM on April 6, 2005

Soccer is the enemy vbfg ?

In the UK, yes. Rugby League fans in the UK are just as anti-Union as some Union fans are anti-League. Probably more so if I'm honest about it. They'll jump up and down and bitch like hell that you have to turn ten pages in from the back of any newspaper before you see any Rugby mentioned, and when you do it's Union. This they put down to established Union bias in the British media. To some extent they have a point, but they miss the more obvious one they could have picked up whilst turning past ten pages of guff about no-mark soccer teams from the back of beyond, and possibly the odd "Can an Englishman ever win Wimbledon again?" article.
posted by vbfg at 2:39 PM on April 6, 2005

1016: I think Henson is the most overrated player in World Rugby today. Besides the kick against England he didn't do much all tournamnet. He was carried by his partner in the centres Tom Shanklin as far as I'm concerned. I've also seen Henson implode twice this year in the Celtic League against Munster so I'm biased but a Shanklin/O'Driscoll or a O'Driscoll/D'Arcy centre partnership is a far better proposition.
posted by daveirl at 2:42 PM on April 6, 2005

BTW, Smedleyman, as a tackle obsessive you might appreciate this (7Mb WMV file). It's a Windows Media clip of some Rugby League tackles.
posted by vbfg at 2:51 PM on April 6, 2005

If you're looking for loads of Union videos be sure to look here
posted by daveirl at 3:03 PM on April 6, 2005

Very nice montage of hits vbfg & good union videos - thanks guys
posted by Smedleyman at 5:35 PM on April 8, 2005

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