Robin Scott-Elliot: Lions make a killing but lack true national heart and pride

There is a red myth about the Lions. They are rarely any good

Heard the one about the Scotsmen, the Irishmen and the Welshmen? It was ruined by too many Englishmen. Warren Gatland's punchline on how many of Stuart Lancaster's thriving young side he might employ this summer may have got lost in translation – or covered by a backtrack quick enough to haul in any Wallaby line break – but it is indicative of the background music that accompanies the grand old championship every four years.

Which of the four home nations will have the Lions' share of the 30-odd red jerseys handed out later this year is a debate that ebbs and flows around each round of this year's Six Nations. An English hammering of the supposedly hapless French on Saturday will increase the clamour for a near whitewash of Gatland's squad, but then, with Wales suggesting they might be clambering back on their feet and Scotland quietly confident with a couple of winnable home games to come, it may require more of a pick and mix. And don't write off the injury-riddled Irish. They have Bod on their side.

The Six Nations is one of this country's sporting cornerstones. The sheer numbers who turn up in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff as well as Dublin, Paris and Rome are on a scale to make even rugby's sporting elder brother envious. Football does not attract such audiences to the national sides of Scotland, Wales or Ireland, while at Twickenham England compete on an equal footfall with their Wembley neighbours. It is in rare old health off the pitch and on it – the last four years have seen four different winners.

The looming Lions tour, which takes in three Tests in Australia, is supposed to add an extra frisson to the season. There is even more to play for than your country, there is that famous jersey to be earned, the pinnacle for any player. Except it isn't. The pinnacle is the World Cup, after that the Grand Slam. There should be no more incentive required for any player in any sport than to pull on your country's colours. Thousands upon thousands want to, very few enjoy the privilege. And the Lions represent nobody's country.

There is something of a red myth surrounding the Lions. When they do get together they are rarely any good and in this modern sporting world of marginal gains scratch sides are only going to find it ever more difficult to beat national ones. The Lions have won two of their last nine series, lost their last three and their last in Australia, in 2001. Perhaps they should follow golf and look to Europe to bolster numbers; the British and Irish and Italian and French Lions. Or Les (Ros)Biifs.

The Lions remain an oddity and most likely would have disappeared into the history books where it not for one factor. Like the overhyped Ryder Cup, it is a lucrative franchise for those who run it, and those who host it. It is not because Australia can beat them more easily than, say, England that this summer's hosts, as well as New Zealand and South Africa, relish the arrival of the Lions. It's because a healthy boost to the host union's coffers follows – some 30,000 from Britain and Ireland are expected to head to Australia in support of the Lions. Meanwhile, back in the northern hemisphere, the home unions' chief executives will be equally happy in their counting houses. The Lions began more than a century ago as a commercial idea and today it is a lucrative one. This year's £14m tour Down Under is expected to result in a £4m profit divided equally among England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – for the latter two, in particular, that is a welcome quadrennial bonus.

If it didn't pay its way the carefully selected tour party would not leave these shores but when it does depart this summer it will not be accompanied by any great interest from this quarter. Team sport is about caring about the colour of a shirt, identifying with the men or women wearing it. Support your club and support your country because in sport there is nothing above that.

Britain is not a sporting nation. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are sporting nations. It was impossible to care about the contrived British Olympic football team. Last summer's surge of sporting Britishness was a one off, fuelled by our delight in hosting the Games and the flattering mirror that the genius Danny Boyle held up for us to look into. It will not be back in Rio.

Like the British football team – a labelling that looks odd and sounds odd – the Lions are a sporting contrivance, albeit one with a weighty history. Their identity is not one with which I can identify. I care who wins the Six Nations and that emotional investment is definitive. I cannot care whether Gatland's selection beat Australia no matter how the numbers add up.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam