British & Irish Lions
'I didn't actually write that newspaper column'
May 23, 2013
ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith take a trip down memory lane
With the British & Irish Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN analyst Austin Healey and presenter Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under.
Healey was a member of the Lions squad edged out by the Wallabies in a memorable Test series but hit the headlines for slamming team management in a newspaper column while Durden-Smith fronted Sky Sports' coverage of what was an eventful tour.
Check out their amusing and insightful exchange via the video above and check out their banter below.
Mark Durden-Smith: "Well with the excitement levels rising by the day as the lions tour comes ever closer to actually happening after all these months and years of waiting we have Austin Healey alongside me to discuss what it's like to tour Australia as a British & Irish Lion as you did in 2001, as I did as well alongside you in the broadcasting scene but Austin do you have happy memories of touring Australia as I think it went a bit pear shaped from time to time for you didn't it?"
Austin Healey: "No not necessarily for me, I enjoyed the tour, I thought it was a very enjoyable tour in terms of the playing and the people you played with. But what we had was a separation for the tour so (coach) Graham Henry had almost picked his tour squad, his first XV, before we got there and if you don't have the competition, players lose interest. There was real separation some people went their own way, but it was really the players that brought it back on track. In particular the ACT game springs to mind. Two brilliant individual tries brought us back into contention..."
AH: "By me."
MD-S: "Okay just checking."
AH: "...and then we went on to win that match and that really was the highlight of the whole tour, let alone the series."
MD-S: "So you are still slightly ignoring the bit in the press where you called one of the key players, who actually won the series for Australia, a 'Plank' and caused great division amongst the British & Irish Lions touring party - is that a route you'd rather not go down?"
AH: "I think the press do like a scapegoat every now and then and at that time they accused Justin Harrison of winning the game by taking one lineout. Jonny Wilkinson in the third Test kicked 5 out of 9 penalties. If he had kicked like he normally does, the Lions would have won with ease - and they deserved to win the third Test - but just to put the record straight, I didn't actually write that newspaper column. I was in hospital at the time when it was written so if you want to hang me out to dry at least get your facts right before you come down that road."
MD-S: "I wouldn't mind hanging you out to dry, but I also think you were personally responsible for the loss of the Lions series, other than that let's move on."
AH: "That's your opinion you're entitled to that."
MD-S: "Joking aside, joking aside, touring Australia, is it a very intense atmosphere wherever you go? Or can you get away from the intensity of the situation?"
AH: "Well the press jump on you straight away, as the Australian press like to do."
AH: "Yes, literally and thankfully you didn't or wouldn't have made the latter games of the series. The press, they make things up about you over there and they make it very difficult and you have to ignore all that and in some ways. It galvanises the squad so it's a good place to go for a squad. This time around I think it's a strange squad, for me it hasn't got a real spark, it hasn't got a Christian Wade or a Jason Robinson and they've almost they have set their stall out. Warren Gatland has said we are going to go there with some really big guys and you're going to have to try and stop the British Bulldozer."
MD-S: "They have denied that because that is what Robbie Deans was recently saying, that that is exactly how they are expecting the Lions to play. Rob Howley was saying conversely they are keen to go and play rugby. What is the best way to do it if you want to win a series in Australia?"
AH: "I think the key is to keep energy high on the tour. You'll have difficult times in midweek. It's a shorter tour this time I think it is two weeks shorter than when I went in 2001. You got to keep that energy up, keep the competition for places high. If they do that this Lions squad have got the quality amongst them and the experience more importantly to take this slightly less experienced Australian side to the cleaners."
MD-S: "There are two memories I have of the Lions squad while covering it. One was you putting me on my backside whilst on a beach I think it was in Sydney..."
AH: "Well I was working for Greenpeace and I saw you and I thought I've got to get you back into the water."
MD-S: "There was no need for that! But the most important memory, the far more significant memory was that first Test in Brisbane when there was a sea of red Lions supporters, Jason Robinson did his bit, the whole place came to life. Do you think it's possible to replicate that again? Do you think the Aussies are wise to the fact there will be an army of Lions supporters out there."
AH: "They will be wise to it. John O'Neill (former Australian Rugby Union boss) has said that they are wise to it this time round. They spent $100,000 on scarves for the second Test, which is about 40 quid, and it was almost a sea of orange in all the empty seats of Australians that hadn't bought them. But I am looking forward to this series, I think it's going to be good. I think the Lions can win it, but I do think it's going to go to that final Test, but maybe Justin Harrison winning a lineout in the very final seconds of the game can win it for Australia."
MD-S: "Let it go, move on."
AH: "You started it."
MD-S: "Move on."
AH: "Good to see you are still here anyway."
Brumbies lock Justin Harrison and Lions winger Austin Healey square up during their clash back in 2001 © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.