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How The Lions Tour Of New Zealand Is Actually Benefiting Australia

How The Lions Tour Of New Zealand Is Actually Benefiting Australia
By Gavin Cooney Updated

This being Ireland, it's high time we ask: what do the neighbours think?

Irish, British and Kiwi minds will be focused on Auckland on Saturday, as the Lions and All Blacks face off for the series, but is the tour capturing the imagination of rugby fans without any skin in the game?

In a word: Yes. Balls spoke to Sean Maloney, rugby host on Fox Sports in Australia, and he confirms that the tour has attracted more Aussie eyeballs than the Wallabies have: the TV ratings for their summer Tests against Scotland, Italy, and Fiji have been dwarfed by those for the Lions Tests, and as for which side has received the slightly more sympathetic coverage, Maloney has this to say...

We saw Cheika get the same treatment as Gats is getting now [Cheika was the first rugby coach to be mocked up as a clown in the NZ Herald] in the New Zealand media. It's funny trying to work out which way you'd lean your allegiance to, and we came down to asking which of the sets of fans were less troll-like in the way they approached things online, and that saw us settle with the British and Irish Lions!

That second Test victory reproached expectations in Australia as well as anywhere else, with the consistent tankings the Aussie sides have been taking in Super Rugby leading to the assumption that the All Blacks would streak home 3-0.

That's not now going to happen, after the Lions' 24-21 win in Wellington, at which Maloney found himself among Lions supporters.

Initially, I thought they were going to get pantsed, every single game, knowing New Zealand from the Super Rugby side of things, and what our blokes have copped going over there.

On Saturday we went into the Lions Fan Zone, it was epic. I was there in 2013, but this was a whole other thing. I've never experienced anything like it.

Pre-game, we got into the dockside in Wellington. It was packed, with around 5,000 Lions fans. We shot some vox pops with the fans there.

We then took a GoPro into the Westpac stadium, and we sat among the Lions fans. They totally embraced us, and we had the best time. It was phenomenal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeRtOxAG50M

Having followed the tour closely, Maloney and his Fox colleagues have been impressed by myriad Lions, including one CJ Stander.

From an up-close look, I think Conor Murray has been terrific. Maro Itoje, Jonathan Davies has been enormous in the centre. I don't know how Farrell kicked those penalties in Wellington, with the wind swirling around, how he pierced the ball through that air and hit the mark was extraordinary.

Another guy is CJ Stander, who we rate very highly. The Ex-Wallabies I work with all rate him very highly. The fact he is not starting shows your depth there.

I was having a chat with Rod Kafer yesterday, and he was talking about how much of an animal with ball in hand, the way he just destroys with ball in hand.

As good as Murray has been, however, Maloney doesn't agree that he is the best scrum-half in the world:

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No, I still think Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara are ahead of Murray. I actually think Perenara is the best scrum-half in the world. But Muray has obviously been outstanding, and he is making quite a habit of crossing the stripe against New Zealand.

Murray has now scored four tries against New Zealand, more than any other player from the Northern Hemisphere. His hand in making the All Blacks look decidedly wobbly has benefits for sides beyond the Lions, however.

It is felt in Australia too.

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Rugby union is at a low ebb in Australia, with a first-ever defeat to Sydney to Scotland leading Michael Cheika to ringing up a deflated supporter to plead that everyone was doing their best. 

The biggest issue facing the Australian Rugby Union is the apathy of the masses: a 2016 study surveyed the most-played sports in Australia, with rugby union not featuring at all in the top 10. Ratings-wise, about half as many people watch rugby union as watch AFL.

The Lions Tests have captured attention, however, and they might also provide a badly needed fillip for the Wallabies for the rest of the year:

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It's something that the code has desperately needed. We have been starved for things to get up for and get excited about, the way the Wallabies stumbled through June left us with more questions than answers going into the first Bledisloe game. But if your boys can do it, and pull off what is the impossible task in Eden Park, it might give hope to those on the periphery in Australian rugby.

It's not good at the minute. Given all the garbage as to which of the Super Rugby sides stay in the conference, the Brumbies would need to win the competition to make a stride forward for us all in that respect, but that looks nigh on impossible.

So that game, Bledisloe I, August 19th is the bigest game in Aussie rugby at the moment. If we can win that, it would have us alive through to October this year, and that would give us hope throughout the duration of the year. So that game is everything in Aussie rugby at the moment. Everything.

But what of the weekend? The Lions head to Eden Park in Auckland looking to become the first visiting side to win there in 23 years.

I think your coach said it the best that they have poked the bear in winning in windy Wellington. If it is dry on Saturday, I'd worry for your guys. The pace and the manner in which NZ can counter and convert defence to attack is stunning to watch, but if the conditions are good, then I think that Eden Park hoodoo will continue for visiting sides.

See Also: Eddie O'Sullivan Surprised By Lack Of Commotion Around Lions Winning Penalty

 

 

 

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