Tom English: Sledger laid down a marker for Lions

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unless they have eaten their Lions history for breakfast these past months, the probability is that none of Warren Gatland’s players will have heard of Robert Seddon and yet the Englishman ought to be remembered far and wide in the coming weeks given his place in the story of the greatest rugby team of them all.

Seddon wasn’t just a Lion, he was the first Lions captain in the first visit to Australia in 1888. He played there and he died there. At the end of the tour, 15 August, Seddon drowned in a canoeing accident on the Hunter River in New South Wales and was buried at Campbell’s Hill Cemetery in the city of Maitland. It might be worth the Lions taking a trek there sometime, just in case they need a reminder of the wondrous history of what they are involved in, which, in fairness, they probably don’t at this stage. If it hasn’t hit by now then it never will.

What was fascinating about Seddon was his uncompromising attitude, his refusal to tell his hosts what they wanted to hear. In 1888, the Lions played some Australian Rules matches and to say that Seddon was honest in his appraisal of the Aussies he faced was to put it mildly. “Your players are soft,” Seddon told a Melbourne newspaper. “That is the tendency of your game. If they get knocked down they resent it, and ask angrily whether it was done on purpose. If we get knocked down, we simply get up again and go on playing, and perhaps, if we are inclined in that way, look out for a chance to treat the man who tumbled us over in the same way.”

One hundred and twenty five years have passed since Sneddon spoke those words and the essence, as any rugby player will tell you, is still true. Don’t get angry, get even is a code that is as relevant now as it was in 1888 when Sneddon, the early sledger, was noising up the Aussies good and proper.