British & Irish Lions
'Lions must win battle off the paddock'
May 4, 2013
The sea of red in the Gabba © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions must win the mind games off the field if they are to come away from their summer tour to Australia with a series victory, according to former Australian Rugby Union chief John O'Neill.
Australia took the series 2-1 12 years ago but they fell in the opening Test with the Lions fans forming a 'sea of red' in Brisbane's Gabba. O'Neill, CEO of the ARU at the time, sanctioned the production of more than £60,000 worth of gold scarves and hats in an urgent bid to redress the balance.
And two years later at the 2003 World Cup, the local Australian press tried to rile the England squad in the build up to the final by urging members of the Wallaby-supporting public to make some noise outside of Clive Woodward's men's hotel in an attempt to disrupt their pre-match sleep.
Come the summer, O'Neill who is now an independent Rugby World Cup director, is expecting more mind games and is adamant the Lions must be ready. He said: "I coined the phrase 'be bold, wear gold' in 2001 - all the gold scarves and hats in the stadium in Melbourne cost us about A$100,000 (£66,000).
"Walking into the Gabba for that first Test to be confronted by that sea of red, and to hear everything from Swing Low Sweet Chariot to the Fields of Athenry and Flower of Scotland, we had to do something. It was a wonderful game but we were beaten on and off the paddock.
"Inevitably (there will be some mind games). It's all part of the theatre and you'd be lost without it. You need to win the battle on the paddock and you need to win the battle off the paddock. There's a lot at stake."
Lions coach Warren Gatland has played his fair share of mind-games in the past and is ready for any off-field battles. "The best thing about Australia is their desire to win," Gatland said. "They're incredibly competitive and we've got to be prepared for anything, media-wise or anything from coaches or former players to potentially have an influence.
"John O'Neill in the past has been a master of that and has had a big influence in the way he's done that. That's part of our job to do something about covering off every eventuality that potentially could happen, including psychological warfare in terms of the media."
O'Neill believes the 2001 series in Australia, which the Wallabies won 2-1, "cemented the Lions tour as a permanent fixture" despite concerns over its place in the professional era. "The scarcity factor makes it second only to the World Cup. The excitement at home is palpable," said O'Neill, who revealed the Wallabies could use the Lions' 2001 DVD as motivation. "It was riveting television, behind the scenes with the Lions. It graphically tells the story about the intensity of the series.
"Martin Johnson as the captain and Ronan O'Gara having his lights belted out by Duncan McRae, the highs and lows of the series. It shows Australian players just how proud the Lions players are about wearing the jersey and how passionate they are about winning the series. They haven't won a series for a while, so the stakes are high."
Australia took the series in 2001 © Getty Images
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