Rugby World took a pew with England and Lions legend Phil Vickery to discuss the tour in New Zealand with the First Test looming...
Phil Vickery was a fresh-faced Lions tourist in 2001 in Australia and a gnarled World Cup winning tighthead 2009 in South Africa so he knows all about the intensity of touring. In a candid interview, he explains to Rugby World editor, Owain Jones, what he’s made of the 2017 tour, the Lions’ progress to date and how the Lions need to leave a positive imprint in New Zealand…
How do you sum up a Lions tour to New Zealand?
“It’s such a difficult tour. Going to play the double World Champions, a side who only seem to lose once a year. It’s also a country obsessed by rugby. In the pubs and offices, rugby is everything to them. The intensity, the passion is all enveloping. It is so intense out there. “
What have you made of their performance on the pitch?
“The Lions have lost games by a small margins; games they could easily have won, and depending who you speak to, many people can see progress. The thing with the All Blacks is they perform better for longer periods than anyone else but I’d never seen Canterbury make so many mistakes and they were rammed with All Blacks.”
Has Warren Gatland got his preparation right, or have they given the Kiwis too much respect?
“I think it’s good to see the tradition and respect the Lions are showing the Maori people. For me, personally, it’s hugely important. We need to respect each other on and off the pitch. Where I started at Bude Rugby Club, it was about having your boots clean, having clean kit and shaking hands but when you cross the whitewash, it’s game on. I think Gats has got it spot on but he knows he will be judged only on results. We need to make sure that a footprint for what the Lions stands for is left there so when we go back in 2029, they will have fond memories of us.”
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Has the way the Lions have performed so far in the tour given you belief that the Lions can upset the odds and beat the All Blacks?
“Well if we think we’re going to scrum, line-out drive and maul our way to victory, forget about it. We have to play. It’s seeing weaknesses, applying pressure. I think defensively we’re very strong, we just have to make sure we don’t get too narrow.”
You love a scrum, what have you made of the set-piece so far?
“I’ve seen some whingeing about the scrummage but you have to scrum straight and not push until the ball comes in – that’s the rules and they’re not new. As an old prop forward, I love a scrummage. I love seeing the confrontation, it’s a huge part of our game, but I don’t want to see penalty after penalty. I want people around the world to look at a scrum, ‘wow, I want to be part of that'”.
Why have the Lions struggled to be clinical in crossing the whitewash this tour?
“It’s about pressure, the feeling they have to score. The new combinations don’t help. There have been some monumental defensive efforts by Kiwi sides and some bad luck and we’ve seen what’s happened. As Alun Wyn (Jones) said, we haven’t got to worry about it. It’ll come. The Lions can’t go into their shells. They will have to attack, not by doing silly stuff but winning first-phase, and playing.”
And what about the All Blacks’ style of play?
“When you play the All Blacks, it’s not just and A, B, C, D. It’s ball-carry, dynamic at the breakdown, round the corner, clean break. Yes they have a framework, but they play what’s in front of them. Defensively, they bounce back up and fill the line. It’s innate rugby knowledge. Rugby is a very simple game done well.”