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Last Updated: Monday, 11 July, 2005, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Lenihan calls for Lions rethink
By Simon Austin

Donal Lenihan after the Lions' first Test win in 2001
Lenihan managed the Lions in 2001
The concept of the Lions must change if they are to survive, according to 2001 tour manager Donal Lenihan.

The Lions' 3-0 series whitewash in New Zealand has led many - including head coach Sir Clive Woodward - to question whether such tours are still viable.

But Lenihan told BBC Sport: "The Lions must be preserved, although it's much more difficult in the professional era.

"The people who are in charge need to sit down, take stock and put together a blueprint for the future."

Lenihan toured with the Lions as a player in 1983 and 1989 and as manager in 2001, when they were beaten 2-1 by Australia in a tight series.

And he says it is increasingly difficult for the team to be successful in the professional era.

"International teams have far more time together than they did seven or eight years ago and the advantage that the Lions team used to have has gone," he said.

"In the past, the Lions were coming up against teams without the same level of familiarity.

Donal Lenihan
The 2001 Lions tour revolutionised rugby in Australia
Donal Lenihan

"Professional teams today - like New Zealand - have been together for two or three years.

"True, the Lions managed to win in South Africa in 1997, but professionalism was less than two years old then and a lot of the amateur ethos was still in place.

"The last two tours have been more difficult."

The 45-year-old says professionalism also means the Lions players arrive on tour in less than perfect condition.

"The players are taking part in 11 or 12 internationals a season," he said.

"They arrived in New Zealand at the end of a long and gruelling season. It certainly won't be a surprise if the home nations are more successful against the All Blacks in the Autumn, as they will be the ones at the end of their season then."

But Lenihan, who won 52 caps for Ireland and captained them in the 1987 World Cup, is not sounding the death knell for the Lions.

"The concept is still workable," he insists.

"Maybe we should put emphasis on the Test side. Perhaps we should pick a separate Test squad of 25 players at the start of the tour purely on the basis of the Six Nations.

"Then they would be fresh and ready for the Tests and have time to gel together and work on combinations."

Lenihan says something must be done, as the Lions is such a unique brand.

"You only have to look at the interest in the tour and the huge number of people who travelled out there," he said.

"People I know are already talking about booking their trips to South Africa in four years' time.

"The 2001 Lions tour revolutionised rugby in Australia. The colour and passion of our supporters forced the Australians to revise the way they followed the game.

"They had to coach them how to follow their team in the same way."

And Lenihan says the increasing number of international matches mean the Lions, who only tour every four years, are one of the few international sides still to have any mystique.

"The Lions are the only team that have any freshness about them," he said.

"The home nations see Australia, New Zealand and South Africa regularly now and players in the southern hemisphere are playing against each other in Super 12 and the Tri Nations.

"I was disappointed that the media were questioning the concept of the Lions after the second Test. There's no doubt all the players will be better for the experience."



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