Does The Lions Tour Impact This Six Nations?

Niall Murphy

Niall Murphy

Niall is from Dublin and has worked for online media and gambling companies. Though he doesn't claim to understand any of it. Would like to go to Bilbao next year, for a weekend maybe in May.
Niall Murphy

We all know thoughts of the World Cup effect how teams approach the Six Nations. But a Lions tour year is different.

Players need to prove themselves, and protect themselves if they can, but the team itself has different objectives. You’d like to think Joe Schmidt would be very pleased to see Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien and anyone else get selected for the Lions, and have a great tour. But he doesn’t see it as his job to make that happen. His job is to win the Six Nations.

This year is familiar, Warren Gatland is in charge of the Lions again, just like 2013. So is there anything the Six Nations of four years ago can tell us about this year?

1) Wales don’t need Warren Gatland.

They won the tournament in 2013 without him. Now surely Rob Howley, who was caretaker then and is back again this year, spends plenty of time WhatsApping with Gatland. This must be true. But still, four years ago, the prevailing wisdom that losing Gatland to Lions duty would cost Wales turned out to be untrue.

2) Maybe Gatland was going to pick all Welsh players anyway, but they gave him the excuse.

That year Ireland beat Wales in the first game. The Welsh had a lethally slow start, letting Ireland run away with the first half. But after the break Wales was a team possessed. And though they couldn’t quite make up the deficit that day, they kept up the pace all the way to their last game where they beat England 30-3 to win the tournament.

It’s exactly what Ireland now needs to do this year, make halftime against Scotland their turning point. But it’s important to say here that Gatand likes his Welsh squad: he knows them, likes coaching them and loves getting the chance to select them. So it’s an added incentive for the Welsh to perform, knowing it won’t go unnoticed.

3) It’s you. The national performance doesn’t matter.

Not to put the moan on it, but last time Ireland lost to Scotland was four years ago, when they also lost to Italy. At that point, the last game, after losses to Scotland and England and a draw to France, Irish morale had fallen off a cliff. The squad just wanted the tournament to be over. So it shouldn’t be repeated this weekend.

But Ireland finishing second last that year had no noticeable effect on Lions selection. There were 9 Irish in the initial squad, compared to 10 for England. That year Scotland finished in the top three and only had three players selected for the tour. Though that’s unlikely to happen this time, simply because Scotland have better players this year, nothing to do with where they’ll finish on the table.

4) Two teams couldn’t care less about the Lions. And we don’t know what that means.

The question of how much extra fight the home nations have in a Lions tour year would be easier to answer if we had a consistent bar to judge them against. In 2013 France finished last. Which immediately should make us think other teams raised their intensity levels as Lions selection approached. But this is France we’re talking about, so we can’t make that claim. Who knows why they came last.

Interestingly, Italy beat France and Ireland that year, and stayed within 7 points of England at Twickenham. So if anything can be taken from that, perhaps it’s just that players are more afraid of injury in a Lions year, so these are years Italy should do well.

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