Belfast Telegraph

Lions' star players must roar loudest if All Blacks are to be mauled, says Milliken


By Jonathan Bradley

A key man in one of the Lions' greatest ever triumphs believes a series win for Warren Gatland's men in New Zealand would rival any past achievement by the tourists.

The Lions begin their tour of New Zealand tomorrow morning with a game against the Provincial Barbarians (8.35am), with the first Test against the back-to-back World Champions now just three weeks away.

And should they topple Steve Hansen's men, Dick Milliken, a veteran of the undefeated tour of South Africa in 1974, believes it will rank as one of their greatest results.

"It would have to rank right up there," said the Bangor man.

"It would be a huge achievement and if you were trying to compare it to other sports, it would be like winning five gold medals in the Olympics.

"It'll be right up there as one of the great sporting achievements. It would go down in history.

"With us in 1974, and the guys in 1971 before that actually beat New Zealand, some of those players have stood the test of time - Phil Bennett, Barry John, Willie John McBride, Mervyn Davies.

"Those are players that are still hailed to this day."

With New Zealand's Super Rugby sides sweeping aside all before them so far this season, the midweek games could be tougher than ever for a squad that only arrived in Auckland on Wednesday.

The contrast to the lengthy tour undertaken by Milliken and co in the years gone by is stark.

"You look at the itinerary they've been given and it's horrible," said Milliken.

"If you look back at us in 1974, we won a game 97-0, and that was back when a try was only worth three or four points.

"That was great for trying stuff. We had eight matches before our first Test.

"We played 22 matches in three months which there just isn't time for any more.

"We were lucky in that way. We went to South Africa and had 10 days of training before we even played a match. Working for 10 days, you do get that chance to gel. You hear Gatland talking a lot about that but these guys have to hit the ground running."

Despite the daunting challenge ahead, however, Milliken is not ruling out the most unlikely of triumphs.

Just as Gareth Edwards took control of the series in those famous escapades in 1971 and '74, Milliken thinks victory can only be achieved if the squad's elite talents are able to produce their very best when it matters most.

"I do think that it's possible," he said.

"We hold the All Blacks up as being the greatest and there is no doubt at all that they are the best team.

"But I do think that we've closed the gap a bit in terms of our professionalism and the level of rugby that these guys are playing week in week out.

"If you look at the 'Invincibles' tour a lot of what worked well there was that we had outstanding players.

"Gareth Edwards ran the show, he was in a different world then and people can forget that a little bit.

"You need to have somebody like a (Johnny) Sexton or a (Owen) Farrell to really step up and do that.

"There's great options in the back-row forwards and it'll be a big battle there because New Zealand seem to be able to just keep churning them out.

"You look at Kieran Read, and he's been a great replacement for Richie McCaw.

"It'll take those few real world class players to step up to the mark and perform.

"This group doesn't have a Gareth Edwards but Sexton and Farrell are class players. Could (Stuart) Hogg even come through and show that they just can't handle him," he added.

"It'll take something like that."

  •  A South African side could soon join the Guinness PRO12.

With three sides set to be cut from Super Rugby, two are expected to come from South Africa and it is believed that the PRO12 have reached out to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein to formally invite them to join the cross-border competition that comprises teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.

Organisers have been looking for ways to increase revenue streams with a number of alternatives having been considered, including placing teams in the USA and further afield in Europe.

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