Former England captain Phil Vickery would welcome a British and Irish Lions Test XV dominated by Welshmen if it was best equipped to defeat Australia.
Warren Gatland’s squad have been dubbed the “Welsh and Irish Lions” by the Australian media and it is conceivable that the team picked for the opening Test on 22 June may not contain a single England player. Many of the 15-strong contingent from Wales have started the tour strongly and Vickery, who won five caps on the 2001 and 2009 Lions tours, has not been surprised by the impact they have made.
“I get a lot of stick for my views on the Welsh presence in the Lions, but while I’m a proud Englishman, I’m also proud of northern hemisphere rugby,” he said. “The reality is that there’s a large number of Welsh in the squad and that’s because they’re good. That’s fact. They’ve played well and have consistently shown what they can do. I’d have no issues with a Test team based heavily on Wales if it was the best side.”
Vickery added: “The Welsh lads are such good boys, they know they have to mix and there are no better boys than the Welsh lads to do that. The worst thing you can have on a tour are players who you think, ‘why are you here because you’re not good enough’.There isn’t one Welsh guy on the tour who isn’t good enough. The most important thing is to justify your selection.”
Vickery dismisses the view that the Lions might possess an inferiority complex against Australia due to Wales’s poor record against the Wallabies – eight successive defeats dating back to 2009, albeit in some very close matches.
“As a player who consistently lost to teams likes Australia and New Zealand in the early days, losing makes you want to fight and win that little bit more the next time,” the former England prop said. “If anything Wales’s losing streak against Australia will be a bonus.”
After scoring 128 points and 17 tries in their two tour games against the Barbarians and Western Force, the quality of opposition facing the Lions improves in Brisbane today. Force faced criticism for the lack of strength in their team last Wednesday, but Vickery is cautious about placing too much importance on provincial games.
“I remember 2001 and it was all the same chat then. Ultimately it’s out of the Lions’ control, and don’t forget everyone raises their game for the Lions. It’s everyone’s cup final,” he said. “I was disappointed with the standard of the Force team, but the Wallabies will be very different.”
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“A Warren Gatland factory-produced team” featuring “big, physical, well-conditioned men”. It didn’t take long for former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones to start the Lions-baiting in his column. Or giving advice on how to beat the tourists – “play the game at a high tempo and don’t give them a chance to breathe”.
The Brisbane Times
Rugby league normally rules in Queensland and three days after New South Wales’ captain, Paul Gallen, chinned home favourite Nate Myles in the opening State of Origin showdown, Brisbane’s other paper still had that incident on their minds rather than indulging in any comment on the tourists.
Sydney Morning Herald
Down in Sydney, though, Jason Robinson kicked off his guest column by echoing the thoughts of many locals and backing Quade Cooper and Will Genia to be the half-back pairing when the Lions return on 22 June.