From Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
One of the most incredible Test matches in the history of the British and Irish Lions ends with Morne Steyn kicking a monster penalty to win the game 28-25 and the series 2-0 for South Africa.
So the Lions losing run stretches to seven Tests and eight years, but I think the Lions have never had a bigger place in the Rugby World.
I know Schalk Burger should have been shown the red card for a bizarre (and out of character) attack on Luke Fitzgerald and Bakkies Botha should have seen yellow for his charge on Adam Jones. But that is not what the second Test should be remembered for. The foul play will be a mere backdrop in years to come, when we remember an incredible game. The Lions go 10-0, 19-8 ahead with 20 minutes left and an incredible Springboks side clawed their way back into the match to win with that kick from Steyn. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!
The players and coaches were distraught on Saturday night as they came so close, because of Ian McGeechan, of upsetting the odds and winning this series, but they must see they created something special here in South Africa. Something that must be allowed to flourish – something that should be allowed to grow and help the British and Irish teams in the World Cup.
If England scrum coach Graham Rowntree has any sense (and he has loads!) he will take the spirit of the Lions back to Martin Johnson and England. Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley will do this for Wales and the Irish and Scottish players must do this for their teams if the sides are to have any chance at the 2011 World Cup. The Lions passion is the way to win the World Cup. Look at the All Blacks – they have the Lions spirit running through everything they do. England don’t have it.
England are often guilty of taking themselves too seriously, and not relaxing enough when they are on international duty. If England want to win the 2011 World Cup Martin Johnson’s first appointment in September should be Ian McGeechan. Who cares what the job description is just get him on board and let him work his magic, as it isn’t happening for England at the moment. International coaching is not about telling players how to pass, run and tackle it is about creating a spirit, an emotion, a driving force. This is something the 1974 Lions and their counterparts had in 1997…and you know what they have it in 2009 as well!
It is also now it is up to the big clubs in England, the Magners League sides and the four home unions to treasure the Lions are the greatest institution in British and Irish rugby.
That doesn’t mean talking a good game, that means playing one. The clubs and unions already make a pretty penny from the Lions as they pay for every player selected and now they need to recognise how important the Lions are to the most important people in rugby – the supporters.
In practical terms that means ending the British and Irish season two weeks before the Lions travel to Australia in 2013 and building in training time for the Lions in the middle of the Six Nations. And if that means two rounds of midweek matches, then that is what we should get. The 2013 Lions need a fighting chance in Australia and that means giving the coach enough time to bring a team together from the four home nations, especially as the Aussies are looking like they are building a tasty team for the 2011 World Cup.
The power brokers of British and Irish rugby (that means the English clubs, the Magners League sides and those that run the unions of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland) failed the 2009 Lions – don’t make the same mistake in 2013!
But what do you think? Perhaps I am wide of the mark? I would love to hear your views.