Importance of not being too earnest

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The Independent Online

Next time the British and Irish Lions leave these shores I hope they remember that a successful squad starts with being a happy squad. Lots of things went wrong in Australia, but the basic failing was the lack of fun and harmony among them all.

Next time the British and Irish Lions leave these shores I hope they remember that a successful squad starts with being a happy squad. Lots of things went wrong in Australia, but the basic failing was the lack of fun and harmony among them all.

It was always going to be difficult having all those players and not enough games to give every man the essential feeling that he was playing some part in the big picture.

The Lions management should have been more aware of that part of their job. Obviously, the 37 players couldn't all get into the first team, but they could have felt they had a contribution to make even in the second side. Enthusiasm is infectious.

The trouble is that although the coaches were all capable and good at their specialities, they were hardly a bunch of laughs, and gave little indication that they cared about morale.

Only Steve Black, the conditioning coach, had any idea of generating the right squad spirit and that's why there was fertile ground for players such as Austin Healey and Matt Dawson with their newspaper tour diaries to plant the seeds of mutiny. I think they've come out of it worse, but they caused some damage.

By the time the next Lions tour comes along the internet age will be well and truly with us, and there will be a much bigger market for players' views. I don't like to see comment being stifled, but you can't allow moaning and groaning from within. It should be in their contracts that comments must be confined to rugby topics and not be used for personal whingeing. There is plenty of time for that when the tour is over.

It would have helped if there had been less for them to complain about, if the preparations had been more enlightened and interesting rather than the intense and relentless grind they were put through. As I said last week, I don't understand why it was necessary to have so much physical contact in training. Hitting lumps out of each other is hardly the best preparation.

Training for sharpness, working on organisation and team patterns and concentrating more on the mental approach would be much more suitable for players at the end of a long season.

The Australians were not better man for man, but they outthought us both on the pitch and in between matches. The fact that Brian O'Driscoll had much less space in the second and third Tests was one example, and the disruption of the Lions' line-outs was another.

It has been alleged that the Aussies knew our codes for the line-out throws. That's how thorough they are, and we should have been alive to the need to keep changing the pattern. Frankly, I am not too upset to see line-outs disrupted. I don't like it when they are seen as foregone conclusions. Every team should do their utmost to disrupt the opposition line-outs. They become pointless otherwise.

At least Australia were adaptable. There were other mistakes that the Lions made. Playing O'Driscoll at full-back in the first tour game was one. What was Iain Balshaw to make of that? It would not have helped his confidence.

I said at the time of Graham Henry's appointment that I believed the job should have gone to a British or Irish coach. It was not a question of ability, but of man-management, which is certainly not one of his strengths.

One of our own coaches would have had a better regard for what makes our players tick, and morale would have been easier to maintain. When Henry was brought in to coach Wales, the Welsh were in a desperate state and maybe needed a completely new approach from an outsider. But, having triumphed in South Africa four years earlier, the Lions were not in need of any outside help.

We will now see if Henry can return to duty with Wales with his reputation and his player relationships still intact.

As for the Lions, they came so close that it wouldn't have taken much for them to have won the series. That we should have fallen short by our own deficiencies off the field makes it harder to bear.

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