Q&A: Lions manager Andy Irvine
On 1 June 2013, less than 11 months from now, the British & Irish Lions will play the first match of their tour of Australia. As a result, Lions manager Andy Irvine recently travelled Down Under to put preparations in place for the latest combined home nations’ assault on the southern hemisphere.
One of the great attacking full backs of the 1970s and 80s, Irvine starred in three Lions’ tours himself as a player. He talks about his hopes for the 2013 vintage and the tour’s possible influence on Rugby World Cup 2015.
How long ago did you start working on this tour?
A couple of years now. A lot of the day-to-day work is done by the Director Of Operations Guy Richardson. He’s already been out to Australia three times. It’s a major logistical exercise; you’ve got 20 tonnes of kit you take with you because you can’t rely on going to the training ground and using their scrummaging machine. But when you arrive at your next destination things have to be up and ready to go, so you take two. So you’ve got two of everything. That’s the level of detail they go into these days, that’s modern sport.
What’s the total cost of a Lions tour?
That’s confidential information but I think it’s fair to say it’s many millions of pounds, by the time you take in accommodation, travel, payment of players, insurance. It’s pretty expensive.
With Rugby World Cups being such a huge focus and the Lions not having won a Test series since 1997, does it mean as much to the southern hemisphere teams to play the Lions these days?
Back in December when we announced the tour schedule (Australia coach) Robbie Deans and I hosted the press conference, and I said to him afterwards, ‘it’s the end of your season now, Robbie, are you under pressure from the big French and Japanese clubs to poach your top players?” He said, “yep, but the great thing is we’re playing you boys in a year’s time and none of our lads are willing to sign up without taking a crack at the Lions.’ That’s what it means to the southern hemisphere, their boys only get a chance to play us once every 12 years. It’s a massive thing.
Is it a good time to play Australia? Their Super Rugby teams aren’t having great seasons and Wales very nearly beat them.
I think Wales would concede they didn’t play Australia at full strength. They didn’t have Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale for the first two Tests, James O’Connor, James Horwill, their captain. They only had two-thirds of their top side. There’s no doubt that Australia will be a very formidable team. They’ve possibly got the best back division in world rugby. They’re not going to be any pushover, that’s for sure.
The other thing is, Wales have been playing together for a long time. The Lions, in terms of ability, should have a stronger side on paper than Wales, but it’s whether or not they can gel quickly enough. You’ve got a very short time span in which to get the boys playing as a single entity. Having said that, there will still be a good hard core of that Welsh side in the Test side, I would imagine.
To a British and Irish player, what’s more important? A Rugby World Cup or the Lions?
The Lions only involves the four home nations and one southern hemisphere team, so in that respect it can’t have the same weight as a Rugby World Cup. But there’s not one player in all the UK who won’t want to be on that plane to Australia next year. Of that there’s no doubt.
What does it mean to you personally to be the manager of the 2013 Lions?
It’s a great honour. I’m a passionate believer in the Lions. I was delighted when the Game went pro that the Lions managed to survive because there was a very serious threat that there might be no place for them in the modern Game. But you only have to look at the players’ support, the fan support, the television interest, the media interest to see how important the Lions are. The Lions’ brand has actually grown since my day.
If the Lions can win a series in the southern hemisphere, what would that mean for the northern hemisphere teams going into Rugby World Cup 2015?
It would boost the northern hemisphere teams psychologically. Looking at the difference between the northern and southern hemispheres on these summer tours I’d say the gap is narrowing, because normally when teams go down there they get an absolute hammering. Ok, Ireland did suffer a record defeat but the week before Ireland were the better side. England fronted up in South Africa and Wales were extremely unlucky to have lost 3-0. I think 2-1 would have been a much fairer reflection. Compared to recent visits Down Under, the northern hemisphere teams didn’t do too badly.
If you were a betting man, who would your money be on for Rugby World Cup 2015?
New Zealand will be there or thereabouts. South Africa are always tough and will raise it for a Rugby World Cup. Australia will be very good, particularly because their backs are all young lads presently. And the home team always does pretty well and Stuart Lancaster will have the English boys eating raw meat before the tournament. I think England will probably have a better chance than any of the home nations. You can’t write off Wales though, they’ll be right up with them. And France, you don’t know which team will turn up. They can be either absolutely embarrassing or world-beaters.
Finally, any further progress on announcing Warren Gatland as Lions coach?
We’re still in discussions but I’m confident we’ll be able to announce something shortly. There’s nothing been formally agreed yet, but I would say we’re making good progress.