Wounded lions limping to New Zealand

Simon Zebo will depart Munster at the end of the season

It takes a lot for me to get excited about a rugby match. Yes, I’m a weirdo and I probably shouldn’t even be here in the sport pages upsetting you all. But hear me out.

The game you were reared on may list low in terms of my favourites, but, as a committed fair-weather fan, I can immerse myself into it when the occasion calls. Six Nations deciders for example, I love those. World Cup knockout games, ditto. The provincial stuff not so much, but there you go.

I reserve my most enthusiastic fair-weather fandom for The Lions quadrennial trips to the Southern Hemisphere. What’s seldom is wonderful and there are few things more seldom than a Lions tour. And Lions tours to New Zealand come every twelve years, making them almost as seldom as Limerick All-Ireland wins.

So, if this faithless imposter is looking forward to the forthcoming games against the All Blacks, I can only image what it’s like for the rest of ye. However, having studied the itinerary and read Paul O’Connell’s scathing criticism of the scheduling, I’m already tempering my enthusiasm.

Abiding memories of previous tours involve the almost interminable wait for the games to begin, the endless build-up and discussion before the action starts. But with the mud from the Aviva still fresh on their boots, the Munster contingent joined the rest of the party on Monday, barely given enough time to digest domestic disappointments before embarking upon challenges anew.

At the end of a lengthy, arduous season the 41-man squad have just days to prepare for a gruelling ten-game tour, all of it packed into five frantic weeks. A tour consisting of matches against the finest club sides on the planet as well as the indomitable Maoris would be a challenge in its own right. But that’s only the aperitif, a way of whetting our appetite for what’s to follow.

Under such circumstances even an outsider like me can see that the odds are stacked against The Lions, that winning just one of the three tests would be a cause for celebration. The sad thing is it doesn’t have to be like this. We could all, hardcore and fair-weather fans alike, be looking forward to a series of highly competitive games, the outcome in doubt until the final minute of the final game.

If those responsible for organising this tour had chosen to ensure that each and every member of the Lions’ squad had ample recovery time before, during and after we could have been on the verge of witnessing something historic. But they chose not to do that, so we’ll simply be left wondering what might have been.