Rival captains Sam Warburton and Kieran Read have given strong backing to future British and Irish Lions tours following speculation that the 129-year-old tradition could fall victim to pressure from clubs.
British clubs, looking to protect their players, are reportedly calling to restrict Lions tours to a handful of games — unlike the current, 10-match tour — which would make them unviable.
Critics also point to the Lions’ poor record on the four-yearly tours rotating among New Zealand, South Africa and Australia with only 12 of 33 series won.
Ahead of the second Test against New Zealand, where the tourists are fighting to save the series, Lions skipper Warburton said he would be dismayed if internal politics and finances put paid to the composite team, which first toured in 1888.
“From the playing point of view it’s been the absolute pinnacle of my career and every career highlight I have had has been in a Lions shirt. I still love playing for my club, Cardiff Blues, and Wales but the Lions is what it’s all about for me,” Warburton said.
“Without sounding too strong I’d be gutted, devastated, if the Lions was ever lost. I think it’s absolutely amazing and the players all think the same. In my house I’ve only got one jersey hanging up on the wall, and it’s my Lions jersey. That’s how much I think of the Lions.”
All Blacks skipper Read, experiencing what for him is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play a series against the Lions, believed popular demand would ensure the tours carry on.
“This has just been so exciting being around the country in the past couple of weeks and seeing the supporters from both sides. It’s been awesome. They’re so passionate about the game and I’m sure it will continue.”
But while Read wants more tours, his immediate concern is Saturday’s clash which he believes will be much tougher and more physical than the first Test, won 30-15 by the All Blacks last week.
“It will be a step up. Certainly when you put those things on the line it makes teams play pretty ruthless and wanting to do the best they can. It’s their tour, it’s their year this next game,” Read said.
“For us we’ve got to have that same mindset. We can’t just be waiting for what they going to bring. We’ve got to go out there and take it for ourselves and try and lead with our game and palm our game on to them.
“If we’re sitting back and waiting and expecting what the Lions are going to bring we’ll certainly get caught on the hop and we’ll get dominated out there.”
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