By Charlie Morgan
THE NAMES of yesteryear’s Lions heroes roll off the tongue with consummate ease. Way before the latest promotional offering, when they stepped aboard a galleon set sail for Australia, dressed in late-19th century attire, JPR Williams and Willie John McBride became synonymous with the British and Irish Lions.
With any luck, a few Warren Gatland’s crew will be canonised over the next six weeks, too. But what of the hosts? When plotting a way past the trio of gnarled southern hemisphere giants, Sir Clive Woodward always used to call his imminent opposition “the bad guys”. And, at certain points, certain individuals lived up to that moniker perfectly.
So without further ado, here is a run-down of the villains that have (dis)graced the past four tours.
Motor-mouthed winger James Small warrants a mention here, if only on the basis that his appearances for Western Province and South Africa brought about priceless sledging matches. His main adversary John Bentley has dined out on the expletive-ridden exchanges ever since, not least because his dry Yorkshire wit produced the famous comeback: “You’re a bully. And bullies don’t like being bullied.”
During a 64-14 battering for his side, though, Mpumalanga second row Marius Bosman shamefully entered the realms of thuggery by launching a horrific hack at Doddie Weir on the periphery of a ruck, he hyper-extended the left knee of his opposite number and sent the popular Scot packing with lacerated medial ligaments. Fly-on-the-wall footage of incensed team doctor James Robson breaking the bad news to Weir is gut-wrenching stuff.
Duncan McRae’s x-rated pummelling of Ronan O’Gara during a hot-tempered tussle against the Waratahs registers on any roll of ignominy, and lumbering lock Justin Harrison – immortally christened “plank” by Austin Healey – made such a fantastic anti-hero for Australia A and the Brumbies that he earned a victorious Wallaby debut in Sydney’s decider.
But for an underhand act that altered the course of the series, Nathan Gray takes some beating. The Lions led 11-3 and looked rampant half and hour into the second Test when the abrasive centre sent a savage flying elbow into Richard Hill face. It ended the brilliant blindside’s trip and, from there, George Smith ran riot at the breakdown, allowing George Gregan to orchestrate a momentum-shifting rout.
Demonising Dan Carter for derailing the siege on New Zealand with pure skill seems very unfair. Given the fly half’s sublime performances that emasculated the best of Britain and Ireland though, it is somewhat tempting. Carter’s haul of 44 points in the first two Tests definitely laid sturdy foundations for a humiliating “blackwash”, leaving the Lions faithful shell-shocked.
However, there was the small matter of a double-spear tackle before that. Precisely 45 seconds into proceedings in the First Test, Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga up-ended captain Brian O’Driscoll as he tried to counter-ruck, dropping the Irish skipper onto his shoulder. Screams of pain were audible to television viewers thanks to the microphone of referee Joel Jutge, but the Kiwi pair were never punished and BOD was out of the tour.
Evangelical Christian fly half Jaco van der Westhuyzen made an unlikely bid for acrimony on this tempestuous tour, taking on the mantle of chief wind-up merchant in a cheap-shot ridden midweek match for the Southern Kings. The former Leicester Tiger was also sin-binned for a cynical late hit on Riki Flutey.
When the Test series rolled around though, the physicality intensified to a frankly intimidating level. Pocket battleship Heinrich Brussow and Bakkies Botha – on a personal crusade against Mike “blue eyes” Phillips – thrived, but abrasive flanker Schalk Burger crossed the line by gouging Luke Fitzgerald’s eyes at Pretoria. How only a yellow card resulted will forever be a mystery. He was later banned for eight weeks for his misdemeanour.