Hot take: rugby needs the Lions to win the series. Here’s why.
The Lions are in Wellington and it’s win or go home (via Auckland for the 3rd test). When you tune out the noise – and there’s plenty – the two sides are well matched.
The Lions have had to blend players from four countries under one banner, developing a culture and style on the fly. On the flip side they get to choose from four international teams and have the benefit of a thorough preparation.
Meanwhile the All Blacks are challenged by a much lighter buildup, together for only two weeks before the first test, having only received a benign examination from Samoa. On the other hand their experience and infrastructure consistently overcome inadequate preparation. And then there’s the record at home.
The contrasting preparations favoured New Zealand in the first match, but there was enough evidence to suggest that with some different rule interpretations, more accurate finishing and a bit of luck, the result could well flip this weekend. The rest of the world needs it.
In 2019, rugby will explore life outside the heartland, taking its World Cup to Japan. To grow the game beyond its power base (attracting further investment from emerging markets), it needs to be a success. And to be successful it needs to be competitive – another romp to the trophy by NZ with scarcely a hand laid on them won’t warm the cockles of neutrals (sorry, Kiwi fans). A World Cup that’s up for grabs – one with no clear cut, metronomic favourite – will be more exciting for everyone (else).
The Lions winning this series will expose cracks in the mantle, giving the world fresh hope the All Blacks aren’t bulletproof. Prove there’s a way to beat them – at home no less – just 2 years out from the 2019 Cup and attention and interest will spike. Just in time for the rise of England, Scotland, Ireland and France, and no doubt the eventual revival of South Africa, Australia and Argentina.
The Lions are the latest in a long line of contenders trying take some gloss off the All Blacks. Only this time the health of rugby in the Olympics era is at stake.
No pressure then.