THE BLOG

Look After Our Lions Heroes

13/09/2013 11:34 BST | Updated 12/11/2013 10:12 GMT

The victorious British and Irish Lions squad returned from Australia as heroes this summer, having secured a historic first series win in 17 years. But if they're not adequately looked after, that could be as good as it gets for the triumphant tourists.

Given the huge quality and relatively young age of many of the players included in Warren Gatland's touring party, the future looks bright for the Lions. The likes of Jamie Roberts, Alex Corbisiero, Toby Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny - the man of the series in Australia - should all have their best years ahead of them, and should certainly still be on the scene for the New Zealand series in four years' time.

As such, these players - along with others involved in the 2-1 win over the Wallabies - have a real opportunity to be part of the first Lions side in almost half a century to win a series against the All Blacks.

However, their chances of adding to that legacy - and in doing so, going down as one of the best sets of Lions players in history - could be cruelly stolen from them by injury and fatigue if they aren't adequately looked after by their clubs and countries.

Learn from past mistakes

If coaches across the home unions aren't convinced that the Lions stars should take a breather, they need only cast their minds back to the aftermath of England's 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph.

For an all-too-short period, England were the undisputed best team on the planet. But they soon slipped from that perch and have only rarely managed to recapture their scintillating early noughties form since.

Wear and tear played a major hand in their post-World Cup slump. Key players such as the front-row trio of Trevor Woodman, Phil Vickery and Steve Thompson were beset with injuries after the tournament, with Thompson quitting the game with a neck injury, only to return less than a year later. Woodman was less fortunate: he was forced to retire in the summer of 2005 - at the age of 29 - having suffered a major back injury shortly after joining Sale Sharks. Vickery, meanwhile, eventually moved from Gloucester to Wasps as the West Country club became frustrated with his repeated spells out.

And examples of why players need to be taken care of certainly aren't limited to the world of rugby union. Take England's cricket team as another example: the side that took the field at Trent Bridge in the fourth Test of the sensational 2005 Ashes series never again played together after that match. It proved to be the final Test appearance for pace bowler Simon Jones, who was racked with ankle and knee problems. Furthermore, the likes of Andrew Flintoff, Michael Vaughan and Ashley Giles were regular absentees over the following years.

Warning signs can already be seen this season

We may only be a matter of weeks into the 2013/14 season, but already a string of top names who toured Australia this summer have broken down - some to a greater extent than others.

Leicester Tigers flanker Tom Croft, who made a total of five appearances down under, has been ruled out for the entire season with knee ligament damage. Meanwhile, reports in France indicate that Wales and Racing Metro star Jamie Roberts will be out of action for several weeks with an ankle injury.

Other players have simply failed to get going. Newport-Gwent Dragons back-rower Toby Faletau has looked desperately short of fitness since taking a five-week break following his exertions with the Lions, driving coach Lyn Jones to urge the Tongan-born 22-year-old to "pull his socks up".

Club vs country vs Lions

The biggest problem, of course, is that the clubs are ultimately responsible for paying their stars and want to get the most out of them. The likes of Jamie Roberts and George North haven't made big-money moves over the summer to spend the first month of the season sat on the bench, after all.

But unless our Lions heroes are given the opportunity to rest up, they're at real risk of burning out before reaching their full, glorious potential.

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