Lions' mascot may refuse to tour
April 26, 2009
The 2005 tour of New Zealand was a forgettable experience for skipper Brian O'Driscoll and the team's mascot © Getty Images
The 2009 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa this summer could be thrown into chaos as news emerges that the official team mascot may be unfit to travel.
Sources from inside the Lions' camp have revealed that the cuddly Lion toy mascot, taken on tour by the Lions for several decades, has not yet psychologically recovered from the disaster of the Clive Woodward-run tour to New Zealand in 2005. The catastrophic expedition down under not only saw the Lions crushed by three games to none in the Test series, it was also mired by several controversies.
Woodward's management style was criticised for being out of keeping with what a Lions' tour demanded and his decision to use over fifty players (many picked on reputation not form) and an enormous backroom staff of twenty-nine was widely condemned. The Lions' press relations were also handled abysmally as the public and media mistrusted Woodward's appointed press officer Alistair Campbell - a notorious political spin doctor from Downing Street with no rugby background.
As well as the poor Test results, squad captain Brian O'Driscoll had his tour ended by an alleged spear tackle in the opening moments of the first Test match. Woodward and Campbell even managed to lose plenty of public sympathy after this incident by poor media relations in the following week. It even came to light that Woodward had worked with Campbell to 'set up' Welsh centre Gavin Henson with a series of misleading photographs designed to show a harmonious relationship between the two.
The final nail in the coffin of a disastrous tour was Woodward refusing to admit the squad and management were too large and that he even went as far as to claim that he would, given the chance again, do it all on a bigger scale.
The combination of these aforementioned issues are believed to have taken a serious toll on the mental well-being of the Lions' mascot.
"It just sits there in its pen rocking back and forth and mumbling to itself," said an anonymous Lions' official. "I've never known anything like it. t keeps rambling on about there being 'too many people, too many people everywhere'. He also keeps asking, with panic in his voice, if 'Alistair has gone yet?' Whenever we try to reassure him he just screams: 'Trust nobody. Nothing is what it seems. Don't trust Alistair…has the man from Downing Street gone yet?'. It's very upsetting. I've never seen him like this, not even after Martin Corry forgot to bring him onto the field for the anthems when he was captaining a side in 2005. This is something else altogether."
It is rumoured that the mascot started showing symptoms of depression just months after the 2005 Lions returned home but it was assumed that he was simply suffering from the usual post-tour blues and no medical advice was sought. However, it was only when his condition continued to show no signs of abating over a year later that Home Union officials become seriously concerned.
"We've got him on twenty-four hour watch and are sparing no expense in treating him," continued the source, "but at present I would say it is very unlikely he is going to be in a fit state to travel with the squad this summer. We've tried to tell him that Clive and Alistair won't be going this time and that the playing squad and management are much smaller but he doesn't seem to believe us. He thinks we are all working for Alistair and it's a trick to lure him out into the open where he will be photographed by a hidden cameraman and the photo used to manipulate the situation in the press. I've no idea what to do."
The mascot is also believed to be suffering from reoccurring nightmares in which he is forced to listen to the Clive Woodward commissioned anthem the 'Power of Four' endlessly.
The Home Unions even brought in Martin Johnson, the last Lions' captain to carry the mascot on a winning tour, to try and reassure him that the 2009 tour is a fresh start and the sins of 2005 are in the past. However, the mascot refused to see Martin as he knows Johnno and Clive were very close and worked together to win the 2003 Rugby World Cup. He claims it was 'another cunning trap'.
Leo the Lion, the mascot from Leinster rugby, is currently on standby to step into the role of Lion mascot if needed.
"It's not the way I would have liked to be selected for the tour," said Leo when contacted by The East Terrace, "But it's the highest honour a mascot from our part of the world can achieve in rugby and I'd be lion if I said it wasn't a dream of mine to make this tour. However I wish him all the best in his recovery."
The incident is potentially the most shocking scandal surrounding the Lions since the mascot was found to have fathered a lovecub on the 1993 tour of New Zealand.
James Stafford is editor of The East Terrace (www.theeastterrace.com) - an offside view of life in the rugby world
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