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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 05:18 GMT 06:18 UK
Bonding key to success for Lions
By James Standley

Martin Johnson shakes his maracas during a Lions bonding session in 2001
Johnson smiles through the pain as his hard-man image takes a battering

There are many iconic images of Martin Johnson, the only man to captain the Lions twice.

But one of the most memorable is of the 6ft 7in (2.01m) enforcer shaking his maracas on a bonding session before the last Lions tour in 2001.

The sight of Johnson's usually glowering countenance creased by an embarrassed grin as he took part in something normally reserved for a seven-year-old's music lesson is one to treasure.

In the good old days, creating team spirit was not an issue.

Thrown together for up to seven months the players had plenty of time to get to know each other and the team's bonds grew organically over pints of beer, "merry japes" and rousing songs.

The "Singing Lions" of 1950 were based around a core of Welshmen whose love of song soon infected the whole touring party, and when the squad joined in there was no doubting they were a band of brothers.

But in the modern era time is a luxury and the bonding process has to be hot-housed, hence Johnson's moment of percussion-based embarrassment.

However, there is also a serious side to the modern-day bonding sessions, as Johnson revealed after the 2001 tour.

The proceedings were enlivened by the moderator occasionally interrupting and asking you to massage the shoulders of the person to your left
Lions media adviser Alistair Campbell

"Some of what we did was quite deep - talking about our private hopes and fears in front of guys we hardly knew," he wrote.

"Martyn Williams, the Welsh flanker, told us about the death of his brother and Matt Dawson talked about the break-up of a relationship.

"It was quite moving and I think it helped us grow closer."

But there are more light-hearted exercises too and this year's Lions have been donning white boiler suits and letting loose their latent artistic talents.

"We worked in teams to make a painting about how we wanted to be remembered as Lions," hooker Andy Titterrell told BBC Sport.

"We had guidelines and had to draw Lions and home nations badges. Once we finished we put all our blocks together to make up this massive mural the size of a wall - it's one of a kind.

"We all had our photo taken standing beside it and we'll all be getting a framed copy. We've all signed it as well - it's something to remember the 2005 Lions by."

The sessions also got a bit more physical than that.

Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell, who has been signed up by Sir Clive Woodward to handle media matters, was also present.

Lions hooker Steve Thompson belts out the national anthem
Would you let this man massage your shoulder?

"The proceedings were enlivened by the moderator occasionally interrupting and asking you to massage the shoulders of the person to your left," he wrote in his Times column.

"So it was that I felt the not inconsiderable force of (England hooker) Steve Thompson's thumbs."

Woodward started the bonding process long before the squad got together, sending out dozens of "Power of Four" bracelets to potential squad members in an effort to create unity.

What they would have made of wearing bracelets in the past does not bear recording, as even the concept of "bonding" did not exist as we know it.

John Dawes was captain on the victorious Lions tour to New Zealand in 1971, and coached the 1977 Lions.

He told BBC Sport: "We didn't call it bonding but activities would be chosen with that in mind.

"Singing was one, and with each successive Lions tour the singing gets worse!

"In the 50s the Lions were excellent but by the time we got to 71 we didn't say much about it!

The big problem facing any Lions tour party is to keep the harmony, and we were hampered by a rift with the midweek side
1993 Lion Martin Bayfield

"We did not have special bonding weekends. We didn't put as much identity on bonding as they seem to these days, it used to happen naturally."

The singing may have declined by Dawes' time but the rugby was far from shoddy as the 1971 tour remains the Lions' only series win against the All Blacks.

Last time they toured New Zealand in1993 the Lions lost 2-1 and the squad unity was fractured as the midweek side became disillusioned, much like on the Australia tour in 2001.

"The big problem facing any Lions tour party is to keep the harmony, and we were hampered by a rift with the midweek side," 1993 tourist Martin Bayfield told BBC Sport.

"They suffered some big defeats - particularly against Hawkes Bay and Waikato around the second Test - and were at times awful.

"It became clear fairly early on what the Test side would be, so some players switched off and went 'off tour', not performing in training and socialising at the wrong times."

That split is something Woodward must avoid and that is why he places such store on pre-tour bonding.

Wielding a maraca or splashing some paint may seem a strange activity for a rugby player, but if it helps the team grow stronger then neither the Lions nor their legions of fans will remember those embarrassing pre-tour moments.

Well, not until the start of the next tour anyway.


LIONS TOUR 2005

ALL BLACKS WHITEWASH LIONS




VOTE RESULTS
What was the main reason for the Lions' whitewash in NZ?
All Blacks just too good
58%
Woodward's selections
30%
Injuries to key players
6%
Squad was too big
6%
97190 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Vote now closed



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