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Gatland’s plan for Lions to play at Twickenham ‘nonsense’, says Willie-John McBride

Willie-John McBride

Warren Gatland’s proposal for a Lions Test match at Twickenham next year has been dismissed by a giant of the game as ‘nonsense’.

Willie-John McBride, captain of the invincible 1974 squad at the climax of an unprecedented fifth Lions tour, told The Rugby Paper: “It’s completely alien to the ethos and history of the Lions. For the Lions to play a home Test match is nonsense.’’

Gatland, head coach of the truncated tour of South Africa at the end of next season, has spoken to the New Zealand RFU about a Test against the Lions as preparation for the Lions series, claiming that such a one-off match would raise up to £5m.

“That’s the problem with the world of professional sport at the moment,’’ McBride, 80 this summer, said. “It’s all about money, not about sport. Therefore this (Lions v All Blacks) is going to be played purely for money. It would be meaningless.

“Look at the state rugby is in. Lessons should have been learnt but they have messed it all up. The ethos of the game has been damaged so much. It used to be run by rugby people. Now it’s run by (supposed) financial wizards. The grassroots game is dying, or it certainly is in Ireland.

“If they are going to have a Lions, then have a proper Lions tour. They keep saying they can’t squeeze the Lions into the curriculum once every four years yet they always seem to find room for some stupid idea to fill Twickenham.

“Surely it is possible to have a proper Lions tour. I think it’s scandalous that the Premiership clubs in England are dictating the future of the sport.

“The game has gone back since the advent of professionalism. It’s a mixture of Rugby League, Rugby Union and American football. A lot of it is quite boring. I played in my share of boring games but there would always be a spark.’’

Phil Bennett, McBride’s ringmaster during the unbeaten 22-match sweep of South Africa 46 years ago, captained the Lions in a non-Test friendly against the Barbarians to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

“I’d like to see the Lions stick to playing their matches overseas but then I’m old-fashioned,’’ he said. “That’s what has made the Lions unique.

“Warren’s idea is a good one. Lions against the All Blacks would pack any stadium in the world. If it raises £5m and if £1m of that would go to the NHS, then who am I to disagree?’’

The Lions have played only one official Test match at home, against Argentina in Cardiff in May 2005.

PETER JACKSON

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