Former British Lion
Interview: Gavin Hastings
We can be heroes
Momentum is regarded as an important part of sporting success but for the British and Irish Lions it is not something they necessarily need to rely on in the upcoming tour of New Zealand.
Warren Gatland’s squad touch down on the North Island in less than a month’s time, with a gruelling 10-match schedule awaiting the cream of the home nations.
Kicking off against the New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday, 3 June, the team will play six matches before the eagerly-anticipated first of three Tests against the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday, 24 June.
Lions legend Gavin Hastings has labelled the itinerary as ‘nuts’ but stressed the focus will be on peaking for those three massive games against the best team in the world and not necessarily impressing against the provincial sides.
“It’s all about winning two Test matches on the whole tour,” said Hastings, who skippered the Lions on both the 1993 tour of New Zealand, which the hosts won 2-1, and the 1989 tour to Australia.
“If they lose the eight other games but win two test matches they will return heroes with a 20 per cent win record.
“It seems inconceivable you can have that win record and be heroes but believe me that’s what will happen.
“The games prior to the Test matches are all about Warren Gatland and his coaching team getting a formation and blend together that will be deemed good enough to beat the All Blacks.
“In an ideal world you’d go into the Tests having won all your games to create that momentum. That would be great but if they were to lose a couple of games, I don’t think anyone would really lose any sleep over it.
“Ultimately it’s not about those games, it’s about the Tests.”
Hastings, now 55, was speaking to Daily Business as Ambassador for the British & Irish Lions’ Principal Partner Standard Life Investments and he believes the schedule does the touring players no favours as they strive to record an historic series triumph.
“They arrive on the Tuesday and the first game is on the Saturday. It’s nuts, really, but that’s the way it is for modern-day Lions tours,” he said.
“We probably had four weeks off before coming together, then we’d train together for three or four days as a team then jump on the plane and arrive at least a week, if not eight days, before the first game.
“We’d probably get together a fortnight before the first game while these guys are getting together less than a week.”
The first Test is on Saturday, 24 June at Eden Park, Auckland, with the second one staged at Westpac Stadium, Wellington seven days later before the Lions return to Eden Park for the concluding Test match on Saturday, 8 July.
The upcoming series is the most anticipated rugby event in New Zealand since the World Cup in 2011.
The Lions previous visit in 2005 resulted in a 3-0 ‘Blackwash’ and Hastings added: “It is very, very exciting, and it is amazing how quickly the Lions come around.
“New Zealand have not hosted a Lions tour for 12 years and it’s extraordinary to think that only two tours ago I was the captain. It’s amazing to think that the Lions have only had one tour to New Zealand since I was the captain.
“They have had to wait another 12 years so you can imagine it is just massive in New Zealand.
“I speak to New Zealanders all the time, I have some great friends there and they are talking about it and they are a wee bit nervous and a wee bit worried as a few players from their side are getting injured.
“Touch wood we can keep our guys free from injury, at least until everyone gets on the plane.
“It is going to take that first week in New Zealand before there is any sort of togetherness and that is going to be really tough. Warren knows what he’s taking on board and that is the challenge the Lions have.
“The hardest thing to do on a Lions tour is to keep motivated and look at the bigger picture knowing your endeavours on the training field can help the Lions team win Test matches. Ultimately that’s what it’s all about.”
LIONS NEW ZEALAND TOUR SCHEDULE
Saturday 3 June – Provincial Union XV v Lions – Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Wednesday 7 June – Blues v Lions – Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday 10 June – Crusaders v Lions – AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Tuesday 13 June – Highlanders v Lions – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Saturday 17 June – New Zealand Maori v Lions – International Stadium, Rotorua
Tuesday 20 June – Chiefs v Lions – Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Saturday 24 June – New Zealand v Lions – First Test, Eden Park, Auckland
Tuesday 27 June – Hurricanes v Lions – Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 1 July – New Zealand v Lions – Second Test, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 8 July – New Zealand v Lions – Third Test, Eden Park, Auckland