Is 2017 British and Irish Lions Tour mission impossible?
Former British and Irish Lions prop Alex Corbisiero popping up in a Telegraph interview provides a reminder of how hard it is for the composite side to succeed on tour, with the toughest assignment imaginable awaiting next summer.
Corbisiero proved the missing piece in England’s front row after injuries ruled out fellow looseheads Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healey in 2013, as Warren Gatland’s side won both Tests against Australia with the New York native in the XV and lost the one in the middle he missed.
The following couple of campaigns saw Corbisiero sustain injury after injury, eventually forcing him to leave Northampton in January after making just 24 appearances in his three years at the club.
At just 28-years-old, he’s currently working as an Aviva Premiership analyst for US network NBC Sports and looks unlikely to ever add to a haul of 19 England caps.
Therefore, Gatland won’t have one of the most gifted front-row forwards in the Northern Hemisphere at his disposal when he retakes the reigns for a crack at winning a series against his native New Zealand, something the Lions haven’t managed for 45 years at the time of writing.
Indeed, the All Blacks’ utter dominance has seen the tourists win just two Tests out of 13 since, with Clive Woodward’s dysfunctional cadre whitewashed 3-0 during the last attempt back in 2005.
To make matters worse, New Zealand have never looked better, with the country previously cursed at World Cups taking the past two, the last at a canter in England, and inspirational captain Richie McCaw seamlessly managed out of the team upon retirement thanks to the emergence of Sam Cane.
It’s not all bad news, with Wales coach Gatland admitting that England’s Grand Slam-winning form last spring will make his life easier than expected if repeated in the coming Six Nations.
The Lions won their first tour for 16 years in 2013 largely due to a Wales side that’s still very much intact, with Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Bowe, Sean O’Brien and Connor Murray giving a helping hand.
Of the England contingent Down Under, only Corbisiero and Geoff Parling started the last game, the Red Rose’s struggles under Stuart Lancaster all too apparent even then.
Now, with the Irish and Welsh more experienced and England boasting the likes of skipper Dylan Hartley (a Kiwi by birth), Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Mike Brown, George Ford and many others, Gatland’s squad looks practically bottomless.
Will it suffice? Of course not, but they might have enough in the locker to inflict a first Test defeat on the All Blacks on home soil since 2009.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.