The All Blacks are rugby’s Mt Everest
The Lions tour of New Zealand is like ‘‘attempting to conquer rugby’s Mt Everest without oxygen with a storm gathering on the horizon’’, says former Lion Stuart Barnes.
Writing in The Times, Barnes who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 1993 without playing a test - said the Lions faced ‘‘too short a gap between the [English] Premiership and Pro 12 finals.
He says there are ‘‘too few opponents [and] too easy an initial fixture’’ against the New Zealand Barbarians.
He predicted it would be the ‘‘toughest tour in Lions history’’.
‘‘To win a series would be the greatest Lions triumph of all. To win more than 50 per cent of their games will be a decent effort.’’
Barnes, a rugby columnist and television commentator, said the Lions’ series winning tour of Australia in 2013 was ‘‘just a stroll’’ compared with the New Zealand challenge.
‘‘Just staring at the schedule is exciting and unnerving.
‘‘The Lions could leave New Zealand with a 50/50 winning record and be a better team than the 2013 series winners.
‘‘They could feasibly lose eight matches, jeopardising the Lions’ very future. They could win more than they lose.
‘‘If the wins included a test, the tour would return in credit - or they could win the series.
‘‘Beating the Blues is crucial in keeping the dream alive. Win and the Lions have leeway, lose and the storm clouds will roll into Christchurch filthy black, forget those long white clouds,’’ Barnes’ said in his regular Times column.
His comments came after watching the Blues’ 28-24 loss to the Hurricanes last Saturday, inspired by ‘‘the genius of Beauden Barrett’’.
The former England first fiveeighths - once nicknamed the Bath Barrel - said while Super Rugby had ‘‘over-extended itself’’ with the product substituting ‘‘breadth for depth’’, derby games between the New Zealand franchises had been exceptional.
Barnes said the Blues’ five defeats had come against New Zealand rivals and while ‘‘results stack up against them’’, their performances were ‘‘on an upward curve’’.
The Times columnist predicted the Blues would ‘‘throw men like Jerome Kaino into the fray’’ in a bid to destabilise the Lions, 17 days before the first test.
With the Blues unlikely to make the Super Rugby playoffs, ‘‘their whole season will revolve around the Lions fixture’’.
But he expected the Crusaders in Christchurch would be ‘‘the first serious test’’. and would ‘‘take the tour to the next level’’.
Barnes, who played the midweek games in New Zealand in 1993, said defeats in Auckland and Christchurch in 2017 would put ‘‘unbearable pressure’’ on the Lions.
‘‘Win both games and the Lions can head to Otago to play the Highlanders with a swagger; travel south on the back of consecutive losses and every game becomes the ‘‘must-win game’’ to bolster confidence before the Test series.
‘‘Little is given away. Lions tours are revered in New Zealand. To tame the Lions is to make your own little slice of history.’’
Barnes said the Lions would only be overwhelming favourites in two matches - the tour opener against the New Zealand Barbarians (‘‘less a case of a ‘who’s who’ side than a ‘who’s he?’) and the New Zealand Maori fixture in Rotorua a week before the first test.
British and Irish Lions’ celebrate a win over Australia.