Lions to live on
Despite losing the series, Stuart Barnes believes that the Lions have enhanced their reputation.
Last Updated: 30/06/09 1:07pm
The Lions have now lost seven straight matches against the Tri Nations. It is as bad a run of losses as the combined might of Britain and Ireland has ever suffered yet in defeat the side savaged any talk of a dying concept (excuse me if I do not use that soulless 21st century corporate speak 'soul') with a performance to live alongside many of the renowned victories of yesteryear.
Yes, South Africa won the game with a magnificent strike from Morne Steyn, but the visitors emerged as the heroes of the hour. The Lions had the superior fifteen but the Springboks an infinitely more impacting bench. In the centre of one of the most epic tests for years it was the strength of squad that pulled the Springboks through.
Heinrich Brussow, (destined for a lengthy run in the side after the Schalk Burger gouging incident), Jaque Fourie and Steyn all produced telling performances to lift the home side while the Lions - with the feisty exception of Andrew Sheridan lost vast amounts of power as the starting line up were reduced to rubble, one after the other.
Cementing their place in history
The loss of the Welsh props was immense. Adam Jones was taken out by an increasingly desperate Bakkies Botha who saw the balance of power swing the Lions way after Jones took the easy target for the Beast away and turned him into a far from tame but certainly controllable character.
The loss of scrum advantage was huge the loss of the centres greater still. The sight of Brian O'Driscoll targeting the Springboks big men bordered on the illegal at times but it was never less than inspiring. In defeat he has sealed the mantle of greatness. Here was a reminder that the power of a warrior need not be measured in height.
If his reputation is sealed his partner in the midfield, Jamie Roberts, cemented his as one of the most exciting young talents in the world. Wales has a diamond that will cut many defences to pieces in the years to come.
Defending the scapegoats
But what about the reputation of those Lions who did not excel on the day? Ronan O'Gara has come in for a huge amount of vitriol and must wonder if all he has achieved counts for anything after a missed tackle for the Fourie try and the penalty conceded in the last seconds of the game. The Munster man will be devastated enough without any one else needing to remind him of the repercussions but probably is man enough not to seek excuses.
There is one and a bloody big one and that is the fact that he was knocked halfway to Mozambique attempting to tackle the runaway bull, Pierre Spies. He was being treated on the floor in the build up to the try and pulled himself groggily to his feet when his body was screaming to stay down. Now he will wish he hadn't made the effort. No he does not deserve the abuse anymore than Phil Vickery did the week before. These are both fine players whose reputations should not be damaged any more than Ian McGeechan's by the events of the past fortnight, for it was the legendary Lions coach who got the front row selection wrong for the first test (I am not going to criticise h ere because that would be nothing but smart arsed hindsight) and it he who opted for O'Gara over Hook.
Mistakes happen and the repercussions run through the entire camp. In the end it was not so much a single individual that cost the Lions but an opposition with more power in depth and an iron will to win. The Springboks have earned their series win but the Lions legend was enhanced, not diminished in defeat. It was a privilege to be in Pretoria, albeit a sad one from the Lions perspective, on Saturday.
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Stuart, I would welcome your views on whether you believe officials are too concerned about ruining a match to make a tough decision in the first few minutes which could affect the outcome of a match. Specifically, take at the Burger key gouging decision in the game this weekend. If the touch judge had recommended a red card the outcome of the match would probably have been different. Perhaps the outcome of the series would have been different too. A similar situation occurred in the first NZ v Lions test matches with the well documented "spear tackle". On that occasion it could have been 13 v 15 players for almost 80 mins which could have changed the outcome of that game. Officials are able to take the touch decisions to send off players during a match but appear too weak to do so=2 0at the start. I appreciate the public want to see a proper contest, but not to the detriment of encouraging foul play due to weak officiating.
STUART REPLIES: Charlie, I agree with your sentiment and if the touch judge did have a clear view and was absolutely certain that he saw a gouge then you are 100% on the money. However you and I have the benefit of television replays which the officials do not. It makes you wonder whether a special referee with televisual access should be in place - as with the TMO - to clarify the level of misdemeanour.
Stuart, In commentary you accepted the 'crossing' penalties against the Lions without question. To me in neither case, this and last week. were the Springbok defenders obstructed by the dummy runner, the defenders actually deliberately tackled the dummy runner, as if it was a policy, in order to milk the penalty. For this week's Springbok try, the dummy runner did as much obstructing, its just that the Lions defender did not tackle him. Watch them all again and comment please, I believe it was policy to tackle the dummy runner.
Eifion Jones, Kettering
STUART REPLIES: I will watch again Eifion and I will tell you that Brian O'Driscoll talked about the chances that went in the first Test and the 'dummy runner try' and stated it certainly was a penalty. It is not just me you disagree with but O'Driscoll but I'll have a look, maybe Brian was wrong too.
Penalising the scrum
Hi Stuart, You've suggest before that uncontested scrums need sorting. Is it not time to just penalise the side which cannot contest scrums points? I actually do not see what else can be done. I think somewhere between 7 and 10 points personally.
Jonathan da Silva
STUART REPLIES: Jonathon, A bit draconian if the side has lost their props to injury. An eighth man, a specialist prop for the emergency is an option as is the case of both props being injured means a team must play with fourteen men and not have a useful flanker to add to the side with the weakened scrums powers around the field. That would make a team think again; something similar is happening in France and the case of uncontested scrums has plummeted.
Close to the edge
Stuart, I was rather alarmed to hear your views on Brian O'Driscoll's dangerous tackle on Danie Roussow. While certainly nothing as bad as what Burger did, it was still dangerous and illegal and in my opinion that sort of play should never be applauded. Can you just clear up what you were trying to say for me please?
Simon Murray, Leicester
STUART REPLIES: Simon, It was illegal and should not be applauded but rugby will always be played on the border line and in certain cases whilst not endorsing the act, the commitment cannot help but be admired and that is pretty much what I was doing Saturday, expressing my awestruck admiration for the centres will to win, mostly legal if occasionally otherwise. Had you been in Pretoria and been enthralled by the atmosphere you would know what I mean.
Best wishes to you all, it has been a long old season and this is my last column until the season starts in September. Thank you as ever for your interest and love of the game whether we agree or not it's grand that we care enough to debate the issues of the day,
One more test and I am off on my hols with a few books and bottles of wine,