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French and Italians join the Lions

Saturday April 01 2006

Sweeping changes to the famous touring side

It has been announced that French and Italian player will be eligible for selection on all future Lions tours - a move that could see the likes of Yannick Jauzion and Mirco Bergamasco linking up with British and Irish players on the 2009 tour to South Africa.

Starry Dawn: The crest of the newly formed 'European Lions'


The surprise move comes in the wake of the publication of a review of the ill-fated tour of New Zealand in 2005, during which the British & Irish Lions suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat to the All Blacks in the Test series.

The famous touring side has always been the preserve of the players of the four Home Unions only - England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales - and the inclusion of French and Italian players is the single biggest change to the team's format since its formation in the late nineteenth century.

The inception of the 'European Lions' - as they will come to be called - promises to "breathe new life" into one of the sporting world's most treasured institutions and "will extend the allure of rugby to continental Europe".

Former Scotland and Lions centre Archibald Ferguson has been named chairman of the newly formed European Lions Committee (ELC) and will liaise with the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) and French Rugby Federation (FFR) ahead of the tour to South Africa.

"This is an exciting day in the proud history of the Lions," Ferguson told a media gathering in Parfosillo, Italy.

"To be invited to tour with the Lions is the highest accolade a player can receive and we see no reason why this honour should be restricted to players of British or Irish desent.

"The decision to widen the selectorial net will breathe new life into proceedings and is a move designed to safeguard the future of this fabled institution.

"The birth of the European Lions will extend the allure of rugby to continental Europe and we are delighted that the French and Italians have accepted our invitation.

"The sport of rugby is the winner today, and we look forward to pitting Europe's finest players against the Springboks in 2009."

Whilst the lion will remain, Ferguson revealed that the team's traditional strip - red jerseys, white shorts, blue socks and green stocking tops to represent each of the four Home Unions - will be altered in order to incorporated the blues of both France and Italy.

Ferguson also revealed that the side's new crest will feature the 12 stars of the European Union in place of the Scottish thistle, Irish shamrock, English rose and the three feathers of Wales.

"We anticipate that many fans will fear the changes we have made, but we should not be afraid of change," said Ferguson.  

"As England proved at the Rugby World Cup in 2003, success stems directly from fresh ideas, bold moves and new goals."

The 2005 Lions tour came under fire from the media due to the perceived under-representation of Scots on the side - just three out of an initial squad of 44 tourists.

Introducing a larger pool of talent means that a player's chances of being selected are diminished, but Ferguson was adamant that all six nationalities could be represented in the XV that will tackle the Boks in the first Test of the 2009 tour.

"One has only to look at the standard of the 2006 Six Nations to see that each of the six unions boasts players of world-class ability," he said.

"But I doubt that any player worth his salt would be anxious [about the changes] - they will see selection as an even greater challenge.

"We have merely raised the bar, thereby heightened the honour associated with being selected for the Lions."

Moi je dis chapeau :D

Notamment le coup du blason :D

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