With the Tom Richards Trophy safely tucked away in his office, British & Irish Lions chief executive John Feehan will shortly start the planning process for the 2017 tour to New Zealand.
The Lions may only play every four years, but each tour is four years or more in the making. New Zealand, home of the 2011 World Cup champions, is the next destination and the Lions have only ever won one series against the All Blacks.
That was way back in 1971, when John Dawes’ side clinched the series 2-1 with the fourth and final Test drawn 14-14 in Auckland. So, after a first series win in 16 years in Australia, what sort of shape are the Lions in and what has to be done to try to emulate the ‘super seventies’ when the Lions last won back-to-back series?
“It is a fantastic feeling having won a series and we were all absolutely elated after that record breaking win in Sydney. The way the supporters supported us was amazing and it was a fantastic series,” said Feehan.
“The Australians were fantastic hosts and really looked after us well and the whole tour was a really positive experience. Some people thought it was a bad idea to go to Hong Kong, but our coaches thought it was a good idea.
“It was a hot, hard and intense time out there and that was great preparation for us. I think overall we got more things right than wrong this time.
“To be fair to the 2009 tourists, the Lions stock was pretty high after that tour even with the disappointment of losing the series. We found our soul again on that tour and four years on we have taken another step up.
“We had a very young squad in Australia and, looking forward to four years time, I think we will have a very experienced squad of players going down to New Zealand. I think we are in really good shape.”
The 2017 tour will be the last under the current agreement with the Sanza nations, but Feehan doesn’t believe there is any threat to the future of the Lions. The legendary northern hemisphere tourists have become a major part of the rugby finances of their southern partners and the future looks bright.
“Of course the Lions will continue. We have on-going discussions with the Sanza nations because we have to plan a long way ahead, but the New Zealanders are very happy to have us going to them in four years time,” admitted Feehan.
“One of the biggest smiles on any of the faces I saw at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney after we had won the series was being worn by the chief executive of the New Zealand RU, Steve Tew. This wins tees up the series in 2017 against them beautifully.”
As well as continuing his open dialogue with Sanza, Feehan and his team will shortly fully de-brief the 2013 operation before turning their attention to planning the commercial packages for 2017. The Lions have always been an attractive prospect for sponsors but, after winning the series against the Qantas Wallabies, their stock will be even higher.
“Most of our commercial partners get involved because of the values of the Lions. Success obviously helps and, as well as the brand being in good shape, we are in pretty good shape commercially as well. Win, lose or draw our commercial partners have been fantastic over the years,” said Feehan.
Feehan has pledged to continue to fight to clear more preparation time for the 2017 Lions ahead of their tour to New Zealand. The dialogue with the various governing bodies in both hemispheres will be stepped up to try to create the best possible training and playing environment to make the Lions of competitive as possible.
“There are many issues surrounding the way the season is structured. It is not an easy problem to solve and it’s very hard to stretch the time the Lions have together,” admitted Feehan.
“But we will be doing our best in the future to try to do that and hopefully we will be able to give our players a better chance to perform to their best by getting a bit more preparation time and even a few more games if we are really lucky.”
With the new season in the northern hemisphere a mere month away, Feehan has no doubts that both the Aviva Premiership and the RaboDirect PRO12 will benefit from the success for the 2013 Lions. And hold on to your hats when the the 2014 RBS 6 nations comes around in the New Year.
“The next RBS 6 Nations is going to be wild. The players are all the best of buddies now, but they will be going hammer and tongs against each other in the 2014 championship. The reality is it’s going to be a fantastic tournament,” added Feehan.
“A rising tide brings all the ships up and it is like that with the Lions. This success has fired everyone’s imagination and made people feel very special about rugby again and the RBS 6 Nations will be a major beneficiary of that.
“Not only that, I have no doubt at all that all of the six Unions will be very competitive at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Just Look at the way the Wales v England game went this year – it was as good as any game you will see anywhere in the world.
“I have no doubt at all that a northern hemisphere side could win the World Cup.”