From Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
One of the greatest matches in the history of the British and Irish Lions finished with 30 players and almost 48,000 fans (including the media) emotionally drained, here in Durban. I was privileged to be there as I was privileged to watch Dan Carter wreck the Lions in Wellington four years ago. Could we have asked for anything better?
The Lions were down and out / dead and buried (pick your cliche) after 45 minutes, trailing the world champions 26-7. Surely there was no way back for the men in red. But from a platform created by their world-class centres Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll they hauled themselves up by their bootlaces and back into the game with tries from Tom Croft and Mike Phillips to create a nerve-jangling last five minutes. Although the Springboks showed why they are world champions by shutting the door on any comeback and sealing the win.
The spirit that Ian McGeechan has instilled in these Lions is incredible and with Roberts busting the Springboks defence at will and O’Driscoll weaving his magic they always looked like scoring. They got over the line three more times, Ugo Monye being tackled into touch, Phillips seeing Bakkies Botha knock the ball out of his hand when he was touching down and Monye have the ball smashed out of his grasp as he went over, by Monye Steyn.
What more could anyone want from a rugby match? White hot atmosphere, a staggering comeback and the game still on a knife edge in the dying minutes.
So while my prediction for a seven-point Lions win proved wrong they could have won by a lot more. In the journalist’s sweep that has been going for the whole tour I said Lions by 12, and it was won by Alex Spink of The Mirror, who will hopefully put it all behind the bar in our hotel tonight!
The Lions comeback was startling and the theme of the post-match interviews was one of frustration from the Lions, who know they should have won this match, but also of resolve they can put it right next week in Pretoria.
That will be tougher than today, but Ian McGeechan has never lost a second Test as coach of the Lions – that record will be tested next Saturday.
The Lions will be horrified by the way they were dumped in the scrum.I can’t remember as many penalties in the scrum for one player, Beast Mtawarira. It will be a mystery to many how he managed to hold such ascendancy over Phil Vickery? Very difficult to understand form the touchline. We will hear more about that as the week goes on.
Other points to note:
* The Springboks were so nervous under pressure and the unforced error count will horrify them as much as the scrum will horrify the Lions
* In Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips the Lions (and Wales) have found two genuinely world-class players.
* How good a Lions debut from the bench was that from Rob Kearney. Very impressive replacing Byrne in the 38th minute!
* The Springboks pack is a formidable outfit. Their lineout was watertight and their scrum will scare the rest of the world.
* John Smit has to be the best captain in world rugby today. It was 26-7 when he went off and when he came back it was 26-21 and he was the key reason for the way the Boks sealed the deal.
* Next Saturday’s Test in Pretoria is teed up for another cracker. So if you are coming out you are very lucky!
But what do you think about this series and yesterday’s game?