The Last Word: The Lions - tough band of brothers who prove that real men do cry

McGeechan really knew how special it is to be a Lion when he realised he wouldn’t be one again

The pain appeared to intensify as its victim wandered haphazardly around the room, swabbing tears from his face with the palm of his right hand. When a friend and colleague emerged to console him, he buried his face deep into the other’s shoulder and emitted a low moan of the deepest despair.

Big boys don’t cry, they say. Real men, like Sir Ian McGeechan, do so when something sacred scours the soul. The sight of him losing control, and shrinking into the embrace of the forwards coach, Graham Rowntree, is required viewing for anyone who doubts the validity and importance of the British and Irish Lions.

The veteran head coach had just completed his final team talk of the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa when he realised he had reached a crossroads, personally and professionally. He would never again have such a platform for the stark eloquence generated by his passion for what the red jersey represents.

He had told his players: “The biggest thing you earn in this jersey is a respect and a reputation and, to any person, that’s the biggest thing you can have, for what you do and what you stand for. Some of you might be there to pick up the next jersey in four years’ time. Some of us won’t be. Please, please give them something to play for and something to understand.”

With the First Test against Australia looming at the Suncorp Stadium in the Brisbane suburb of Milton on Saturday, the message has sudden relevance. McGeechan’s subsequent tears are rugby’s holy water. They cleanse and replenish, justify an ideal and purify its participants.

They serve as a reference point, a challenge to the conscience in an age of artifice and cynicism, where more profound values, such as comradeship, loyalty and mutual sacrifice, are distorted and repackaged as a brand, to be sold glibly and globally.

The Lions are flirting with such heresies; this tour began with a corporate jolly in Hong Kong, and is in danger of being cheapened by rampant commercialism. A pair of red Lions socks? That’ll be £21, sir. Gold Lions cufflinks? A mere 110 of Her Majesty’s drinking vouchers. There is an avalanche of tat for under a tenner.

Rugby has struggled to deal with its inevitable mutation in the professional era. Mercenaries populate committee rooms and dressing rooms. The undercurrent of expedience leads to aberrations such as the Bloodgate scandal. Player welfare is becoming a pivotal issue.

They are prime physiological specimens, programmed scientifically to perform consistently. The dwarf-throwing, aftershave-drinking, hotel-destroying mavericks have been consigned to history. The pressure to win is paramount, and sets the scene for this series.

A Lions tour is a throwback, because less remains more. The four-year cycle is perfectly balanced, because it is sufficiently short to sustain the mystique through the power of memory, and long enough to generate a sense of expectation.

Team-mates have only three Test matches to leave their imprint on the timeline. They are an individual vintage, a unique band of brothers who, once the spell has been broken by the final whistle in the Third Test on 6 July, will revert to ancient and instinctive rivalries.

Heavens to Betsy, let boys be boys

Here we go again. Another set of callow youths, packaged as stars when they should be regarded as students. Another England football team on the traditional hiding to nothing.

This time it is Peter Taylor’s Under-20s, who begin their World Cup campaign against Iraq in Turkey a week today. The culture of acclamation before achievement does them few favours.

The FA, in their desperation to minimise their increasing marginalisation, have used their TV channel to promote Taylor’s players as emerging celebrities.

Young men such as James Ward-Prowse of Southampton and Everton’s Ross Barkley have obvious promise, but everyone is getting ahead of themselves.

Players as young as six are being scouted relentlessly and told they are special. By the time puberty hits, they have boot deals and agents masquerading as “consultants” to get around the rules.

It suits too many people to forget they are boys. The best youth coaches, such as Kevin Betsy, who works at Fulham’s academy, know the truth of the situation.

He oversaw a life-skills class on Friday. It involved a simple act of domesticity: making the bed. According to Betsy, “80 per cent of the boys didn’t have a clue” what to do. They know how to sign an autograph, though.

A bit run down

Athletics has been shunted to the sidelines in this so-called summer. The European Team Championships, at Gateshead next weekend, will barely register. The last thing the sport needed was yesterday’s news that Veronica Campbell Brown, Jamaica’s most celebrated female runner, has tested positive for a banned substance. Uncomfortable questions are about to be asked.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service