The Lions wasted no time in claiming the victim tag, and expect them to keep a firm grip on it for the rest of the tour.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible for any game involving the Force to create this level of international furore. And yet there it was, from the minute Michael Foley named his so-called ‘second string’ side in order to save his troops for a Super game against the Waratahs.
Immediately it was on for young and old. This was an INSULT to the Lions! A cold, mucus-filled mouthful of saliva spat in the face of rugby’s most SACRED tradition! How DARE the Force deprive the Lions of facing the full brunt of Tessman and Cowan!
And then the killer line, dropped by our old mate Sir Clive- “The Lions come to Australia once every 12 years but if this is how they are going to be treated in this country then they should seriously consider whether to return.”
So take this as a warning, you dirty Aussies- if you keep this up you can kiss this pretty face goodbye, because we ain’t coming back! To further illustrate his point, Sir Clive then launched into a pitch-perfect rendition of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’, with Austin Healey and Matt Dawson serving as back-up singers.
Then there was the outpouring of grief as memories of 2001, to this point repressed, flowed out like the Swan River on a rainy Saturday. Former players like Healey sharing their harrowing tales of Aussie underhandedness, from the mee-ja, the players and even the people themselves! Argh, the horror of it all! Healey fell just short of recommending that Martin Johnson be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Of course they couldn’t spare a paragraph or two to acknowledge a couple of facts. Like the fact that SANZAR’s scheduling put Michael Foley in an impossible position having to play a midweek game before a crucial derby match on Sunday. And the fact that last time the Lions came to Perth they played an amateur XV and won by over 100, and I can’t remember much complaining then. And the fact that from this point forward ever provincial side will be fielding their best possible XV, starting with the Reds naming 12 Wallabies in their team for Saturday.
But that’s the point of the whole exercise- you can’t let facts get in the way when you are playing the victim card. And playing the victim card is a well-worn Lions tradition, far older than Willie John McBride and the 99 call. It is a crucial part of the Lions narrative: the best of the Home Nations, travelling to the Antipodes to battle a foe who are fighting against them in every possible arena. They are strangers in a strange land, gallant warriors sent to conquer the Southern land of the savages.
So any hostile act is seen as a declaration of war, any harsh word or mistimed hotel fire drill an act of co-ordinated sabotage. But you get the sense that the stakes are slightly higher this year, with the Lions desperate to show that their 16 year drought is merely a statistical aberration and not a concrete sign that the concept cannot work in the professional age.
With that said, I do have to admit one thing- I love it. What’s more, they love it too. It’s one of the things that makes the Lions unique. They complain about surveillance of training sessions, poisoning of the team water supply or drone strikes on the bloke who runs the kicking tee. We laugh at their whinging, then proceed to bash them senseless on the field, often off the ball. We then play the tests, and the winner takes it all.
It is an essential part of the cut and thrust of a Lions tour.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.