By Alan Dymock
IN THE team that took to the field against the Barbarians, only one of the British and Irish Lions was someone who plays their regular rugby outside of the home nations. That it was the Man of the Match Mike Phillips was merely coincidence.
The robust scrum-half is one of only two men in the squad who plies his trade in France, the other being fellow Welsh international Gethin Jenkins who will re-join Cardiff Blues upon his return from the tour. This is merely a spit in the sink when you consider how many top international rugby stars now call the Top 14 home.
However, this Lions tour is not so much a shop window for the best of Britain and Ireland as a catwalk where specimens can be displayed. Five of the big names have already secured lucrative moves away from their clubs, with four heading for the milk and honey of France and one for the glamour of, erm, the East Midlands.
With George North off to Northampton Saints, Jamie Roberts, Jonny Sexton and Dan Lydiate off to Racing Metro and Richie Gray off to Top 14 champions Castres, there are no cases of players playing to get picked up. They are there purely for the rugby.
With their brand new challenges waiting for them when they finish the tour the players are left with glory, rather than riches, as their prize. Of course the Lions players are rewarded for their time, but so are the Australians and that will not diminish the effort from either side.
Another aspect seldom explored is that while some players may be overawed by the circus surrounding Lions rugby, those gentlemen moving to more profitable climes may be happy to fly away from the tribalism, the accusations of money-grabbing and the preparation for the new season in an inward-looking league by busying themselves for Test rugby. There is no time to pause and contemplate on a Lions tour. There is too much going on and these men have to show off. For the whole rugby-watching world.
Anyway, these players are valuable to big clubs with deep pockets because they have proven quality. That is why they are on the Lions tour and exposed to the globe.
Until the series is over these men will be firm friends and more than aware of the task in hand. They do not have to worry about the future because they will not be allowed to think of anything beyond the next few weeks. All of them have a realistic chance of making the test side, too. If they do line up to face the Wallabies no one will care where they are from, where they are going or how much they will be worth: all that will matter is that they perform.
If these men do that and strut along their Aussie catwalk, they may still have to worry about money and their lives elsewhere, but they’ll never have to buy a pint in Britain or Ireland again.
Find out more about Jonny Sexton, Richie Gray and George North’s big moves in three exclusive features, only in Rugby World’s July edition. On sale now!