Opinion: From the second they step off the plane, the Lions will be under scrutiny
They set foot in New Zealand for the first time in 12 years on Wednesday16:55 Tuesday 30 May 2017, 16:55 30 May 2017
This summer's tourists to New Zealand can expect to be under the public microscope from the second they disembark their plane.
A British & Irish Lions tour is a daunting prospect as much as it is an exciting one. While the tourists have the advantage of selecting the best players from four counties – they give up home advantage, play hostile provincial outfits each week and, especially in this year’s case, receive minimal preparation time for such a huge assignment.
This year’s tour to New Zealand has arguably been the most anticipated rugby event since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The Kiwi’s have been waiting for this Lions team for quite some time. They sent the last batch packing with their tails between their legs in 2005 when they completed a 3-0 series "blackwash".
The Clive Woodward-led expedition 12 years ago was a disaster from the off. He split his squad in two; the likely test players and the midweek "dirt-trackers". The concept failed spectacularly.
He loaded his squad with ageing English players who had won the World Cup with him two years previously. Their form had nose-dived after reaching the summit of the game in 2003.
A dejected Lions team in 2005. Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Wales won the 2005 Six Nations Grand Slam yet their players were largely passed over for the pivotal positions.
The presence of former Labour media spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, also cast a needless shadow over the tour.
The Brian O’Driscoll incident in the first Test, and the fall-out from it, left a sour taste which took a few years to clear.
That All Black side introduced the world to Dan Carter, who was outstanding in all three tests. The tourists never had a chance and were beaten out the gate.
Over a decade later, the Lions will arrive in Aotearoa - the home of the back-to-back world champions. The side have only lost once since 2015.
New Zealanders are infatuated with rugby. Almost every second advertisement in the country is All Black related. At times, it can be overwhelming.
All Blacks' captain Richie McCaw lifts the Webb Ellis cup. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
They are a small, proud nation and being the best country in the world at the sport means a lot to them.
Two little islands on the edge of the world dominate the rugby world like no other country assume the same mantle in any other global sport.
They have superiority complex and sending any touring team packing is their aim each time they extend a warm welcome to their shores.
Two of this year's three Tests take place in their fortress, Eden Park in Auckland, where they haven’t lost since 1995.
They haven't been beaten on home soil since 2009 when South Africa beat them 32-29 in Hamilton.
Under The Microscope
The build-up to this tour has seen mind-games escalate from the moment the touring squad was announced.
Both Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland and New Zealand Head Coach Steve Hansen have fired a couple of shots in the other's direction in recent weeks with each claiming the most pressure is on the other to deliver a series win.
The local population have rallied around Lions fans offering free accommodation as hotels and hostels hike up their prices ahead of the expected 30,000 visitors.
However, this squad will be monitored relentlessly from the moment they set foot on Kiwi soil.
One need only look back to the extra-scrutiny under which the England team received at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Their extra-curricular activities marred a miserable tournament for the English after stories of dwarf-tossing made headlines around the world.
A fan raises a banner in New Zealand. Picture by: Lynne Cameron/PA Archive/PA Images
One nightclub bouncer even released CCTV footage of Mike Tindall with a woman despite him being engaged to Zara Philips at the time. The bouncer was later found guilty of "dishonestly obtaining property by accessing the venue’s computer system."
The Irish, Welsh and Scots were spared such intrusion during their World Cup campaigns despite letting off considerable steam themselves at times.
However, they should expect to be held to the same standards of the 2011 England team for the next few weeks.
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