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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Millar in mood for change
In the second of BBC Sport Online's new weekly rugby union series, Lions legend and new IRB vice-chairman Syd Millar puts the case for an overhaul of the international season.
In the week of an International Rugby Board conference on player burn-out, it takes a brave man to advocate an increase in the number of games for top performers.
As a three-times Lions tourist, coach and manager whose teeth were once described as the softest part of him, Syd Millar is just such a man.
Already chairman of the Lions and a Six Nations Committee member, the former Ireland prop was confirmed on Monday as vice-chairman of the IRB.
And as one of rugby's leading power brokers, his opinions offer an illuminating view of its potential future.
What he does favour is an increase in the number of games the major touring sides play, accompanied by a tweaking of the rugby calendar.
"I do think we need to increase the number of games the Lions play," he says.
And he adds: "In my early days, the All Blacks and Springboks came here for the same number of games as the Lions went there.
"That, I think, is something we have to look at again."
Millar believes playing too few preparation matches, he argues, was central to the 2001 Lions' failure in the Test series against Australia.
He sees elongated European tours by the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks as a prime means of increasing interest in the sport and generating more revenue.
"My first Lions tour [in 1959] was 33 games and the last was 10. I suspect the ideal number is around 12 or 13," he says.
Millar also believes a longer schedule would eliminate the disharmony that disrupted the morale of last year's tourists.
"You must give people the chance to challenge for a Test place," he says.
"If you take too many players to try to offset possible injuries, you are going to have guys getting bored through not playing."
Millar has also noted the positive effect the Lions and their mass following had on Australian rugby and the country's sporting economy.
And he believes that re-introducing the southern hemisphere sides' Grand Slam tours of old can be equally beneficial for the game here.
"That may mean them playing a dozen games or more, as the Lions should be doing," he says, "but it is also an aid to developing rugby in these islands.
"Having these guys playing around the four countries develops a huge interest, and I would have thought the players would want the opportunity of a Grand Slam tour."
However, Millar is also acutely aware of the fatigue factor.
"The reason why the last Lions did not beat Australia in the Test series was to do with fatigue and injury," he says.
"When we toured, we probably had a month off before we went. These guys barely had a week off and they came to Australia tired.
"By the third Test it was difficult to get 15 fit guys on the field.
"In future Lions years, we have to schedule the home leagues to ensure that these guys have a proper chance to rest."
Previous pleas to create a unified global season have fallen on deaf ears.
"We went through a period of time where people said you can't have these long tours any more, the Lions are finished.
"Yet the Lions are now probably the biggest and most valuable name in world rugby.
"As the game evolves, we might find that we can grow the seasons together so that these things are possible."
The first signs are already there, with New Zealand coach John Mitchell floating the idea that the Tri-Nations should run alongside the Six Nations, with a touring window to follow.
Millar believes that scenario is more likely than a further change in the Six Nations schedule, which has already contracted from 10 weeks to seven.
Recent changes in the southern hemisphere calendar, he reasons, suggest it is more capable of change than its northern equivalent.
He says: "At the moment the Six Nations has an almost perfect niche in the sports year. It might be easier for the southern hemisphere to move nearer to us."
PART TWO: Millar on the highs and lows of life with the Lions - and how coaching turned British and Irish fortunes around.
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