Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Lions need to win mind-games battle

John O'Neill warned the British and Irish Lions to be ready for battle on and off the field this summer
John O'Neill warned the British and Irish Lions to be ready for battle on and off the field this summer

The British and Irish Lions have been warned that Australia will be looking to beat them on and off the field during this summer's tour Down Under by the man who coined the phrase "be bold, wear gold" during the 2001 tour.

Australia were shocked into action 12 years ago when the Lions were roared on to victory in the first Test by a sea of red as visiting supporters took over Brisbane's Gabba. John O'Neill, chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union at the time, sanctioned the production of more than £60,000 worth of gold scarves and hats in an urgent bid to redress the balance.

O'Neill, who is now an independent Rugby World Cup director, said: "I coined the phrase 'be bold, wear gold' in 2001 - all the gold scarves and hats in the stadium in Melbourne cost us about A$100,000 (£66,000)."

He added: "Walking into the Gabba for that first Test to be confronted by that sea of red, and to hear everything from Swing Low Sweet Chariot to the Fields of Athenry and Flower of Scotland, we had to do something."

At the 2003 World Cup, England found themselves under siege from the Australian media. One newspaper urged Wallaby fans to make a din outside England's Manly hotel the night before the final.

O'Neill added: "It was a wonderful game but we were beaten on and off the paddock. Inevitably (there will be some mind games). It's all part of the theatre and you'd be lost without it.

"You need to win the battle on the paddock and you need to win the battle off the paddock. There's a lot at stake."

Lions coach Warren Gatland, who is not averse to lobbing the odd verbal grenade himself, is braced for an Australian dirty tricks campaign. Gatland has previously described O'Neill as a master wind-up merchant and he is braced for some "psychological warfare".

"The best thing about Australia is their desire to win," Gatland said. "They're incredibly competitive and we've got to be prepared for anything, media-wise or anything from coaches or former players to potentially have an influence.

"John O'Neill in the past has been a master of that and has had a big influence in the way he's done that. That's part of our job to do something about covering off every eventuality that potentially could happen, including psychological warfare in terms of the media."

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