Warren Gatland and his back room team have just completed a whistle-stop visit to the Australian and Hong Kong hotels, training and match venues ahead of this summer’s 125th anniversary British & Irish Lions tour.
The fact the group were able to go on a pre-tour scouting mission shows the major difference between the 1888 pioneers and the today. It took Robert Seddon and his team 46 days to travel from England to New Zealand to kick-off their epic tour.
The 1888 Lions pictured on board the SS Kaikoura
After a send-off dinner at the Manchester Hotel in the City of London on Wednesday, 7 March, all bar Seddon went by train to Tilbury the following day to board the S.S Kaikoura. They sailed round to Portsmouth and finally headed away from home shores on Saturday, 10 March.
They reached Tenerife on 13 March, Cape Town on 31 March and Hobart on 18 April. They finally arrived in Dunedin on 22 April – and promptly opened their tour seven days later against Otago at the Caledonian Ground.
Contrast that to the Business Class luxury the 2013 Lions will experience when they fly British Airways from Heathrow Airport to Hong Kong. They will cover the first 6,000 miles of their trip to Australia in a mere 12 hours.
Gatland’s side will open their tour with a clash against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on Saturday, 1 June, before heading to Perth for the first of their nine matches in Australia – against Western Force on Wednesday, 5 June. The final 3,700 miles of their journey will take a further seven-and-a-half- hours.
That means the combined time it will take the 2013 Lions to reach Australia will be 19-and-a-half hours, compared to the 42 days it took the 1888 side to reach Tasmania.
Seddon’s men were each given £15 to buy clothing and kit to take with them on tour. They were presented with a cap and had one playing jersey, comprising red, white and blue hoops, to use throughout the tour, which included 35 games of rugby in New Zealand and Australia and 19 games of Aussie Rules Football in Australia.
The first pride of Lions wore a jersey similar to the one above
The 2009 Lions each had 80 pieces of individual kit provided to them for their tour to South Africa and Gatland’s men will have a similar amount on the 125th anniversary tour. How times have changed!
This summer’s final game will be the third Test against the Wallabies on Saturday, 6 July. The players will be sleeping in their own beds once again by the night of Monday, 8 July. It wasn’t until 11 November that the 1888 Lions could contemplate such a luxury after spending 249 days away from their homes.
Only one other Lions touring team, Michael Campbell-Lamerton’s side of 1966, played as many matches as Seddon’s 1888 side, 35, and their trip around Australia, New Zealand and Canada only kept them away from home for five and a half months.
The 1888 Lions travelled with 300 stoats and weasels as companions on S.S Kaikoura on their way to New Zealand – they were being taken there for the destruction of rabbits – while the 2013 Lions will have 30,000 or more fans joining them.
On their return voyage, the inaugural Lions tourists passed the time by using catapaults to fire at passing albatrosses. I wonder what Gatland’s men will be doing on their return flight?
Polishing the Tom Richards Trophy we hope!