Success isn’t all about Saturday

The two Lions tours of the '90s ended in contrasting Test results and two of the stars of those series' believe the success and failure in Saturday matches owed a great deal to the attitude of the midweek team and the way in which the players reacted towards each other. [more]

Success isn’t all about Saturday

The two Lions tours of the ’90s ended in contrasting Test results and two of the stars of those series’ believe the success and failure in Saturday matches owed a great deal to the attitude of the midweek team and the way in which the players reacted towards each other.

In 1993, the Lions travelled to New Zealand to face an All Black side who weren’t at the peak of their powers. The All Blacks had relinquished their World Cup crown two years earlier and many observers believed the Lions stood a great chance of matching their 1971 counterparts by recording a famous triumph on New Zealand soil.

Four years later, the Lions arrived in South Africa with far less optimism surrounding their latest adventure. With the Springboks the reigning World Champions, the Lions were huge underdogs, especially as the northern hemisphere seemed to be struggling to adjust to the new professional era.

Contrary to the bookmakers’ odds, however, it was the class of ’97 who returned home as heroes, while the 1993 Lions were left to dream of what might have been.

And while there were plenty of key moments that went for the Lions in the Test series in South Africa and just as many that went against them in New Zealand, Scott Gibbs and Ieuan Evans have no doubt that what happened against the All Blacks and the Boks owed a great deal to the differing the relationship between the Test and non-Test players.

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Evans was on his second of three tours when Britain and Ireland’s elite headed Down Under in ‘93.The Llanelli wing would play in all three Tests against the All Blacks, having done the same against the Wallabies in 1989.

The Lions came mighty close to just a second-ever series win in New Zealand but the closeness of the Test matches was in stark contrast to the results of the midweek side.

Having started the tour well, the Lions’ fortunes began to change when it became obvious who would be in the Test side and who was destined to be a ‘Dirt Tracker’. A single loss prior to the first Test was followed by three more provincial failures before the final match of the rubber. And for Evans, it was the manner of those defeats to Auckland, Hawkes Bay and Waikato that really did the damage for the spirit within the camp.

"There was never the same sense of togetherness and collective pride which the Lions midweek team had generated in Australia," said Evans.

"Attitudes left a lot to be desired. Too many were content with merely being a Lion instead of pushing themselves to the limit. This was the most privileged school of all but too many were simply not interested in enhancing their education.

"As the split between Test team and the rest began to widen to seriously large dimensions, so a number of players decided that they weren’t going to let it spoil their fun. They did so to such an extent that some gave the impression they were on holiday.

"The way I saw it, some of those who played against Hawkes Bay didn’t give a monkey’s. They simply weren’t trying. It was as if they were saying to themselves, ‘We’re not bothered. We’re not going to get a Test place so we may as well enjoy ourselves’.

"It was safe to say that they drank too much. I don’t know whether they were with us in spirit but they were very much with us in spirits! The moral support was always there. We needed much more than that, however. We needed people to be pushing the Test team to greater heights as had happened in Australia.

"We needed more Mike Teague’s. He was another who, like Richard Webster and Tony Clement, would fight until he dropped, but his kind were in such a minority that there was never any chance of the mid-week team finding the inspiration which Donal Lenihan had provided in Australia four years before.

"The brutal truth was that the mid-week team had been given up as a bad job."

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The Dirt Trackers beat Southland but won just once more after that

Fast forward four years and you’ll find a very different scenario.

The Lions of ’97 will forever be remembered for their incredible victory over a side who had been expected to wipe the floor with them.

That particular group of Lions lost just one provincial match all tour, a five-point reverse to Northern Transvaal five games in.

The togetherness of the squad was clear for all to see throughout the Living with the Lions video that followed the tour and Gibbs is convinced it laid the platform for a series win.

Whereas elements of the class of ’93 had used their time to enjoy themselves excessively off the field, the ’97 Lions followed their own code of conduct, never abused the sense of freedom given to them and only played hard knowing they would work equally hard before and after.

"There wasn’t one waster on that ’97 tour, whereas in 1993 there were a few hangers on," said Gibbs, who played in the second and third Tests in New Zealand and all three in South Africa where he was voted Man of the Series.

"There was never anyone who felt alienated in any way. That’s a true strength of a squad, that inward support from everybody. That was there in abundance in ‘97 and that was why it was so successful on the field and off the field. We made a lot of friendships and there was never one clique.

"There was a lot more responsibility on the players this time round, and a much more open style of management. We set out the rules and all the parameters of how we wanted to be treated and how we wanted things to progress.

"I remember when we were training in Durban we had a very tough week and some of the boys were saying, ‘I could do with a beer, I could do with a night out’. I was in one of the groups responsible for the well being of the players, along with Lawrence (Dallaglio) and Johnno (Martin Johnson) and we said to Fran (team manager Fran Cotton), ‘I think the boys could do with a night out’. Fran said, ‘I haven’t got a problem with that. You all go out and have a good night out, but make sure training tomorrow is up to the standard we’ve set’.

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Success in '97 was built away from the galmour of the Test matches

"That was the kind of responsibility and trust we had between us. Above and beyond that, we made a rule that we’d eat out of the hotel once a week as a group. We went to some lovely restaurants and it brought everyone closer.

"And we did whatever we wanted to do at night time. Jerry (Guscott), Jason (Leonard), Lawrence and I would sometimes eat in the hotel and sometimes go out and have a couple of bottles of wine, but everything was in moderation, certainly after the second Test, when everyone naturally over-indulged a bit.

"Afternoons were left open; those who preferred to stay active and wanted to go to the gym and work out could. Most of the time, me, Taity (Alan Tait) and some of the other guys would go and do a circuit; others went fishing; some went and played golf.

"The sense of camaraderie, the togetherness, the fulfillment and the achievement were out of this world."

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