By Alan Dymock
MOVIES ABOUT sports invariably get it wrong. It’s the montage. Athletes are shown muddied and broken, scuttling around performing seemingly impossible tasks over and over until the actions actually become easy.
At the sharp end of sport, though, it never gets easy.
If someone is enjoying the hard work or finishing foundation sessions with comfort then that individual is not preparing for true tests. Do not misinterpret this as saying players should be flogged constantly – proper preparation encompasses factoring in rest, gentle pre-match sessions and time to switch off, though concentration levels must be high at the right times because that’s just good planning – but a British and Irish Lions match against the Wallabies is not only a Test; it is an exorcise in pushing yourself beyond your limits in order to overturn monstrous odds, a pitiless schedule and the demands of four nations and one expectant hemisphere where your opposition lives.
On Friday night, Sydney local time, Ian McGeechan presented the Lions with their match jerseys. As a player he has won in South Africa in 1974 and lost it in New Zealand in 1977. He has been head coach of the Lions a system-shocking four times, winning in Australia in 1989, losing in New Zealand in 1993, winning in South Africa in 1997 and losing in South Africa in 2009. He was also a midweek coach on the disastrous tour of New Zealand in 2005. Put plainly, he understands sacrifice and dedication when it comes to touring.
Undoubtedly he will have gotten his message across. It will have been a simple message. One about what it takes to win.
Good planning means deciding – in truth, most times this is gambling – on a scheme to beat the opposition, but paying reverence to their abilities. It is ignorant to assume that Australia will be weak, particularly as they have Will Genia pulling strings, a back-row with the ability to steal lots of ball, an unknown quantity at 12 and an internationally experienced front-row of Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander who will have hit every single practice scrum together.
Opposite Australia is a front-row where Alex Corbisiero and Tom Youngs have never played together before, a back-row built for running forward towards rucks and a bench that caters for several different tactical options.
None of this is to say that the Lions are not well prepared or that Australia must be favourites. It is just that set out, one against the other, this Test is one full of variable and is not as easy as turning up having put in some time and romping home.
As the game kicks off it is not just a case of blood and thunder, or destiny being realised, or Everest being scaled, or butterflies turning into Lions, or wounded animals biting back, or any other cliché playing out; it is a case of taking everything, including the unconquerable training, and using it to best an adversary for one little bit. It is just the first Test of three and it will not be easy.
It will be unmissable, though.