Ollie Phillips: Nothing embodies the spirit of rugby more than the British and Irish Lions, which is why the product is so special

Ollie Phillips
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Results alone over the past eight years validate the Lions (Source: Getty)

While debate rages about the future of the British and Irish Lions, the amazing drawn series against New Zealand, which concluded on Saturday, has only reinforced what a special product it is.

The Lions must always exist. Purely on results, the last eight years have seen the tourists narrowly lose in South Africa, beat Australia and draw with the All Blacks. Results alone validate and prove the value of the Lions, how competitive being selected for and against them is, and how much the whole concept means to the rugby family.

The Lions allow the amateur game to connect with the professional world. Club players up and down the country will come together on a weekend with a load of people they don’t necessarily know, play a game of rugby and occasionally pull off the unexpected. Nothing embodies that more than the Lions.

Across the board, elite sport is becoming more and more removed from what is happening at community level, but the principle of the Lions cuts through that and resonates at the grassroots.

However, the magnitude of the Lions’ schedule – 10 matches during a six-week period – is a massive bone of contention and is something which needs addressing.

Six weeks probably needs to remain as the minimum, as enough games are needed for a patchwork team to start gelling. You could easily lose one of the midweek matches, though, because a Saturday-Tuesday programme is so demanding. For the welfare of the players, that would help.

I do think domestic clubs need to be a little more understanding and forgiving of the Lions schedule, although I completely appreciate that they get a bit of a raw deal.

Premiership sides, for instance, will have some battered and bruised players returning from New Zealand in dire need of rest at a time when the new season is fast approaching.

Equally, perhaps the Lions and the individual rugby unions they represent also need to accept that they should involve the clubs a little more to ensure a happier medium.

Word is that Warren Gatland wants to lead the Lions again in 2021 and it would take a bold person to take it off him after what he achieved against the world champions.

Gatland absolutely nails maintaining the amateur ethos of the Lions. Before that third and final Test, the Lions were bungee jumping and jet boating. I believe someone like Eddie Jones would also be capable of cultivating that environment, but I would offer Gatland the chance to take on South Africa in four years.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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