Let There Be Lions
1 In the beginning was the speculation about the Lions’ touring squad to New Zealand.
2 And the speculation went on forever. It had neither form nor fact, based as it was upon the wishful thinking of journalists, bloggers and armchair pundits.
3 Lo, Saint Warren of Gatland saw the speculation and smileth a mysterious smile. For only he, his five apostles, the blessed Robert Howley, Steve Borthwick, Graham Rowntree, Andy Farrell, and Neil Jenkins… and a few others in the Lions management, knoweth the truth.
4 For Saint Warren had been anointed to lead the Lions unto the gates of the greatest rugby nation on Earth, and, yea, verily, into the land beyond.
5 He sayeth only unto the multitude: “I shall reveal the truth unto you at the Sermon of Syon on the 108th day of 2017.”
6 But the speculation dieth down not, as the multitude of journalists and bloggers and armchair pundits hungered for news.
7 In the absence of news, they fed on speculation and grew fat on it. First, they speculated on the captain. Then the forwards. Then the halfbacks and the midfield; and the back three; and, finally, the bolters.
8 As the 108th day of 2017 approacheth, speculation groweth yet more feverish – til it becometh as facts upon the face of the rugby pages and websites. Proclamations were proclaimed as if they were truth, even though no one knew for definite, for Saint Warren speaketh not of them.
9 Yea, as the time of pronouncement neared, the leaks they leaketh every day.
10 Woe, the name of gnarly Welsh centre Jamie Roberts appeareth suddenly in serious articles in serious papers, despite him being long past his best and starting just two Tests this northern hemisphere season and sitting on the bench for much of the Six Nations.
11 Jesus wept.
12 Before Saint Warren revealeth officially his tour captain at the Sermon of Syon, believethed it was that 2013 captain Sam Warburton would again be the rock upon which his squad was built.
13 And lo, it was true. Saint Warren had again put his mark upon captain Warburton; not Alun Wyn Jones, nor Owen Farrell, nor Rory Best, nor Maro Itoje, nor Dylan Hartley – whom he had denied even a place on the tour and now looks set never to be a Lion – or any other names that had been mentioned.
14 And the mark upon Warburton was the mark of a Lion. A photograph leakethed shortly before the pronouncement doth comfirmeth it.
15 Saint Warren sent archangel John Spencer – one of a blessed few Lions to hath bested the All Blacks – to revealeth his squad at the ordained time, at the ordained place. And darkness fell not upon the face of the Earth for, after all the leaks that leaketh, there were few surprises.
16 Except in Scotland, where there was heard a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
17 They, too, had seen the official 41-man touring squad, which was the largest Lions gathering since 2005 and the second largest in history.
18 And they thoughteth it was not good. For it confirmed there would be just two Scots on the plane to New Zealand, compared to 16 Englishmen, 12 Welshmen and 11 Irish, despite the fact the Scots had verily whooped Welsh and Irish asses in the Six Nations and playeth smart rugby.
19 For Saint Warren had decreed that only Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour should carryeth the hopes of the entire Scottish nation. He haddest denied Richie or Jonny Gray. He haddest foresaken Hamish Watson. The journalists and bloggers and armchair pundits calleth it ‘a scandal’ and ‘a disgrace’, and even useth the word ‘controversial’.
20 Jamie Roberts’ name was not mentioned.
21 Jesus wept not.
22 Joe Launchbury’s name was not mentioned.
23 Jesus wept again.
24 Saint Warren did speaketh unto the multitude at Syon. He sayeth: “There’s going to be some players fighting for Test spots and there’s no stand-out number one contender for several positions. We need to make sure we’ve got the depth and quality in the squad to face the challenges.”
25 Saint Warren sayeth not: “Yea, though they shall walk through the Land of the Long White Cloud, my Lions shall fear no All Blacks, for I shall be with them, and my staff – and Rob shall comfort them still.”
26 Perhaps he should sayeth that. Though it mayeth be a bit of a fib.
27 Yea, the Lions should fear the All Blacks, for verily they are mighty. And swift. And clever. And brilliant. And their shiny brand shineth over the world like the shiniest rugby thing ever – even in a Lions year.
28 And the rugby gods do testeth Saint Warren with an arduous tour filled with herculean challenges. The Blessed Sir Graham of Henry, who did guideth the All Blacks to a 3-0 series whitewash over the Lions in 2005, calleth this year’s tour itinerary ‘suicidal’.
29 They playeth 10 matches in five weeks. They playeth the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. They playeth the New Zealand Maori. They playeth New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams. They playeth three Tests against the All Blacks.
30 But Saint Warren, who hath led a winning Lions’ tour to Australia in 2013, be not daunted by the magnitude of the challenge. He aimeth to become only the second coach to layeth the smacketh down on the All Blacks.
31 He hopeth to repeateth the 1971 success of the mighty smiter, Carwyn James.
31 The smart money sayeth he willeth not.
32 And those who were not named at Syon on the 108th day of 2017 should keepeth their mouths shut, and their phones well charged. Justeth in case.
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