Andrew Gourdie: Would we miss the Lions if they never returned?

Lions fans in Wellington.
Lions fans in Wellington. Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: Earlier this week I read that Stephen Jones - the renowned rugby writer for the Sunday Times who kiwi rugby fans love to hate about as much as he loves winding us up - had suggested the current British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand would be the last. 

I read with a raised eyebrow, and noted his suggestion we kiwis also don't understand irony. This made me question whether to give him the bite he's seeking, but he assured us he's serious so i'll treat it as such. 

It's all very well to threaten New Zealand and its rugby-mad fans that the Lions won't return, but that sort of threat is an insult to the history and heritage of the British & Irish Lions.

It's a proud history stretching all the way back to 1888 that represents a bit of sporting magic. The thousands of fans who travelled from the other side of the world to see them and the thousands more kiwis who've attended the matches here is testament to that. 

Andrew Gourdie: Would we miss the Lions if they never returned?

It's not just the fans though. Only this week, Lions captain Sam Warburton - a proud Welshman, born in Cardiff, who's played 74 games for his country - revealed that he only has one jersey on the wall at home. It's a British & Irish Lions one. He described playing for the Lions as the pinnacle of his career, and said "every career highlight I've had has been in a Lions shirt". 

If the Lions decided not to tour New Zealand, you'd have to question the point of their existence at all. And the moment that question is raised is when all stakeholders in this wonderful concept called the Lions need to address the perceived reasons why future tours may be in doubt.

Before last night's battle in the capital, Jones said the Lions have been "crushed" here in New Zealand. Apparently this forms part of the conversation about why they won't be back. I wonder if Michael Cheika feels the same way about the Bledisloe Cup?

Without sounding condescending, there's a good reason why a Lions tour here is considered the ultimate test. If you're not up for it, well then you're probably not doing sport right. 

Jones suggested the revenue share for Lions tours isn't fair. Well it's not fair when New Zealand Rugby receives next to nothing from the RFU for helping sell out Twickenham when England host the All Blacks either. This just evens things out - once every 12 years. 

Then there's the schedule. The start of the tour was tough. The Lions certainly hit the ground running, I'll give you that. But there's really nothing wrong with the schedule. Ten games in total. Tough? Try telling that to the 1974 'Invincibles' that won 21 of their 22 matches in South Africa.

Times have changed, I get that. So do you reduce the schedule, or increase the number of players? Most of us gasped when Warren Gatland announced he was bringing 41 players down under. the fact he's essentially decided to play a Test team and a midweek team on this tour suggests he probably should have had at least 46 on the plane.

Some of his detractors - the former players and coaches - would almost certainly claim players 41-46 in the squad don't deserve to be there, or that their selection cheapens the jersey. So would you rather they played, or that they didn't come at all? I know what I'd prefer.

Would we in New Zealand miss the Lions? Absolutely we would. But there are many, many more in the UK & Ireland who would miss them if nearly 130 years of tradition came to an end. 

Andrew Gourdie is a reporter and presenter for Newshub Sport.

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