The East Terrace
Lions management lost in fashion disaster
February 8, 2013
The Lions' management team are reportedly still recovering from their 'community engagement and empathy weekend' © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions' preparations for this summer's Test series against Australia have been thrown into disarray after an attempt by the management team to connect with fans during last weekend's Six Nations games backfired drastically.
Lions coach Warren Gatland and his backroom staff, including Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree, took part in what they called a 'community engagement and empathy weekend' in Cardiff and Rome. However, what was supposed to be an elaborate nationwide bonding session turned into a bizarre weekend of high jinks, accidents, arrests, abductions and fashion disasters. At least four members of the management and the committee are, as of press time, still unaccounted for.
Speaking at an emergency press conference in London, Gatland explained the logic behind the weekend's activities was to bring the Lions management not only closer with each other, but closer to the heartbeat of British and Irish rugby: the fans.
"One of the things we wanted to do in our new roles was take a fresh look at things," said Gatland. "Too often in the modern world of professional rugby we sit in private coaching boxes. We are well above the field of play and away from the buzz of the fans and the bitter cold chill of the winter air. If you do that for too long you can become disconnected from the spirit of the game and it can dull your instincts. You can lose your edge. This can, in extreme circumstances, lead to making poor decisions and poor selections. We were determined that the 2013 Lions management would take action to prevent this. So I suggested attending some of the weekend's games with fans. Sitting in the cheap seats, so to speak. Getting a feel for what rugby means to the masses."
Gatland's party was made up of thirteen Lions coaches, managers and committeemen. The group's original plan to 'soak up the atmosphere' on the streets of Cardiff soon went considerably off track.
"One thing led to another and one beer led to another," said a source from within the group who wished to remain anonymous. "You have to understand, some of the people in this group are ex-players who went straight into coaching when their careers ended. They've never actually experienced a Six Nations match with the common fans. They got so swept up in the atmosphere they didn't know what they were doing."
By half-time in the Wales-Ireland clash every member of the group was wearing at least one novelty item of clothing such as a daffodil hat or leprechaun hat. In addition to this, so much alcohol had been consumed that 'legal and binding promises' were made to various fans in various pubs that they would actually be employed as selectors in for the Australian tour.
It is believed the inebriated management team offered contracts to twenty-nine 'at the time seemingly quite sensible' rugby fans. These were made up of twenty Welsh fans, eight Irish fans and 'a Polish guy who knows nothing about rugby but bought us all some beer'.
In addition to the selection scandal, unconfirmed rumours suggest that the reason for Wales' horrendous start in their defeat against Ireland was due to caretaker boss and Lions' assistant coach Rob Howley missing the pre-match warm up and first twenty minutes of the match. This was because the former Wales international got trapped in crowds outside the stadium after queuing up with his fellow Lions managers on Westgate Street to get his face painted with a pair of dragons.
"All the management thought it would be great fun to get their face painted with national emblems by street vendors," said Andrew Edwards, Lions assistant logistical officer. "Howley said he didn't really have time as he was due to coach Wales that afternoon but he would pop out to say hello to the rest of the management team if he had the chance.
Anyway, Rob turned up, fair play, and joined the lads in getting his face painted. Next thing we know, over an hour has gone by and Rob realises he needs to get back. Well, would you believe it, he couldn't get back in the stadium! He had no ticket of course and with his face painted he hardly looked like a member of the coaching team. By the time he persuaded a steward to let him in Wales were in a real fine mess and twenty points down."
After the game the Lions group lost two members, including forwards coach Rowntree, to an avalanche of chip wrappers in Cardiff's infamous Caroline Street (also known as Chip Alley). It took three hours for rescue teams to locate the pair and both were deemed unfit to travel to Rome for the Sunday's Six Nations match.
However, there was still one further humiliation for the Lions.
"Perhaps the lowest point of the weekend came when we rocked up to the Stadio Olimpico to study the form of players in the Italy v France game," said the anonymous source. " It was only ten minutes into the game we realised that none of these players were even eligible for the Lions. Whoops."
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
The East Terrace (www.theeastterrace.com) offers an offside view of life in the rugby world
"The fans could not be happier with the opposition and it adds an exciting element to a game that is shaping up as a thriller." Ben Kay previews the Premiership final showdown
"If there was a cross breed of canine called an Underdogdoodle it would win best in show at Crufts." Mark Durden-Smith looks at the Aviva Premiership Final
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel