Johnny Sexton of the Lions is tackled during the tour match between the Western Force and the British & Irish Lions at Patersons Stadium on June 5, 2013 in Perth, Australia.
Johnny Sexton of the Lions is tackled during the tour match between the Western Force and the British & Irish Lions at Patersons Stadium on June 5, 2013 in Perth, Australia. David Rogers / Getty Images

Force more focused on Super Rugby than the Lions tour

AUSTRALIAN rugby is in tour mode.

It's all about the British and Irish Lions tour, except out west, it appears.

For the Western Force, Saturday's Super Rugby fixture v the Tahs is of primary importance.

As a result, the Force rested many of its front-line players, offering the opportunity to play against the British and Irish Lions to seven debutants.

That's an under strength side in anyone's language. And haven't they copped it.

Much of the northern hemisphere press (not surprisingly) has gone all hyperbole with 'Western farce', while former British and Irish Lions coach, Sir Clive Woodward went a step further, saying, "Treating the Lions with such contempt threatens to undermine their status in the global game".

I must say, hearing that Western Force coach Michael Foley had rested players from an already depleted squad didn't fill me with too much glee.

But is it overly surprising that they have chosen this action? I don't think so.

The British and Irish Lions' tour is vitally important to rugby in Australia, which I've mentioned on many occasions.

In Australia, with our comparatively small rugby market, these types of tours offer marketing and financial dividends that only occur every 12 years.

That's a given.

But, structural changes brought on by the professionalising of rugby have, let's say, created challenges for the Australian Rugby Union.

The Western Force, created in the professional era to develop rugby not only in the west, but also Australian rugby, is a Super Rugby team, rather than a Western Australian rugby union team.

And these two types of teams have very different 'reasons to be', agendas, interests, goals etc.

One selects a team that represents the state, the other goes out into the market and purchases the best available players with the objective of winning a Super Rugby title.

When placed in a situation whereby within a week, the Force has to play a tour game (albeit against the highest of high touring teams) and a Super Rugby game, is it surprising to have focused on the Super Rugby game? Of course not.

And there's not much the ARU can do about it.

In fact, ARU chief executive Bill Pulver came out in the press in support of the Force's actions.

It's the old-school tour aspect of rugby colliding with the realities of the modern professional game.

If scheduling had allowed the game to be played in July, for example, the Force would no doubt have picked its best possible outfit, but when placed in a position to have to choose between old-school tour and winning a Super Rugby game, it is not surprising it chose to put a preference on the latter.

Take for example the Reds' game against the Lions tomorrow. Apart from their Wallabies quarantined in camp, the Reds have selected close to their best available players.

Scheduling has played a big part - the Reds have a Super Rugby bye - but so has Queensland rugby's long and strong history against touring teams.

But, at the end of day, placed in the same situation of the Force, I think the Reds would have taken the same action and rested players.

Just quickly on the Reds v Lions game, I reckon the boys are a real good chance for an upset.

As well as having the advantage of combinations, getting the touring teams early on in their trip to Australia may well prove a key factor for the Reds.

And we've got Quade Cooper!