Less is More with B&I Lions Tour
Sir Alex Ferguson coined the phrase “It’s squeaky bum time!” And as I watched the 2nd Lions Test with a few good green blooded Springbok supporters, we
witnessed all the pressure and tension that the squeakiest of posterior constriction could infer. Even though a Lions Series only involves the Boks every 12
years - I think this is the most meaningful fixture in World Rugby Union. It beats the World Cup by a country mile. The travelling fans, the mid-week games,
the press battles, the mind games, the matchups, the build-ups, the history, the marketing, the ticket prices... and then YES! finally the Tests themselves.
The Lion’s Tour is the Double Espresso to the World Cups’ 3 insipid weeks of milky Ricoffy.
The almost career defining importance was visible during and after the game. Uncharacteristic mistakes from players that have handled enormous pressure at
every other level of rugby, and celebrations from the Wallabies which were more heartfelt than any Bledisloe I can remember. If there is an argument that the
perennial S15, Tri-Nations, End-of-year-Tour has become a mundane, treadmill of tepidity, then this poker-hot Lions series makes the case. Despite what
endless SuperSport adverts claim - this is actually the Iconic fixture in rugby.
The 2nd Test was not the all-you-can-eat rugby buffet of the 1st Test! Gone were the extravagant counter attacks, and the flamboyant personal battle
between wing superstars. There were Somme-like defensive lines and last week’s swashbuckling rapiers were this week’s battering rams. The flagrantly
fluent Generation-Y backline of Australia, BrandO and Beale, who are usually too cool for school and frequently party till 4am on week nights, looked nervous
and had the dropsies. There were very muted performance from the Lions backs, Sexton, O’Driscoll and Davies played like this was a Test they didn’t want
to loose, but were not prepared to win. Genia and Warburton were standout - but without producing the moment of magic to truly break the game open.
Leali'ifano and Halfpenny showed their metal and the young Aussie utility back, in the debut he might actually remember this time, showed special maturity.
The Lions set pieces were at times dominant, but just as stronger Springbok and All Black packs have found over the last few years, the Aussie tight five
have an annoying ability to extract 45% of the penalties despite being a tenth as good. Farrell complained bitterly in post match interviews, stating repeatedly
that he “wasn’t complaining” - and you could have cut and paste his comments regarding the Wallaby’s ability to manipulate decisions at scrum and line-out
time from any South African post-match summary in the last few years. On the day, however, the insinuations were unfair to both the Aussie pack and
referee Joubert. Scrum rules are a universally agreed mess - and I actually thought the Australian front row put together a few surprising efforts against a
generally stronger but not supreme scrumming opposition.
Overall the Lions did not generate the kind of serious pressure they did in the 1st Test and it was indicative that Halfpenny’s accurate efforts were from
greater range. The Aussies were the more enterprising, but they dropped and fumbled and spilled lot of ball at crucial times, tension and Lions defence
equally to blame.
Dean’s would have been delighted that after nearly 156 minutes of rugby, his controversial pick - O’Connor - finally did something - drifting nicely off another
excellent Genia pass, to create just enough hesitancy in the Lions backs and get the solid Ashley-Cooper in for a deserved try. The well-put-together Ashley-
Cooper does an underrated job for the Australians. He appears somewhat journeyman-like when compared to the mercurial upstarts that often grace a
Wallaby backline, but I hazard statisticians would have him out-performing his more fashionable opponents more often than not.
In theory Halfpenny had a kick to win it, and Gatland was adamant he kicks them from that distance, and that he: “just didn’t catch that one right”. But for me
that was a 1 in 10 shot at a Series win. More indicative of the fact that the Lions didn’t, on this day, feel confident enough to tap and play themselves into a
more realistic scoring position. The kick was probably over 55m on the angle and Halfpenny had earlier struck an absolute peach from 48m and still only hit
the cross-bar. It was another dramatic ending, and set up a mouth watering decider. So selfishly I was delighted it fell short, though of course the sight of so
many celebrating Australians is enough to make any Saffer queasy. I am looking forward to finale more than any other game this year, and I’m not even sure
who I’ll support yet.