From Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
THE MAIN emotion was relief, tinged with pride when the final whistle blew at Ellis Park on Saturday, and the British and Irish Lions had won the third Test.
They still lost the series, of course, but the pride, passion and emotion the whole squad and management showed in gaining that final victory is a credit to rugby and of course the legend of the Lions.
Shane Williams will get the headlines – quite rightly – after joining a select band of players to score two tries in a Lions Test, but as with all rugby victories it started with an immense performance from the pack.
Up front Andrew Sheridan had a whale of a game and during the game and the days running up to it everyone found out exactly what they needed to know about Paul O’Connell. His development on this tour will be Munster and Ireland’s gain and I hope they can thank the Lions for that.
Jamie Heaslip also came of age and it was wonderful to see Alun Wyn Jones come on in the 67th minute, and play his best rugby of the tour.
Martyn Williams was the link man extraordinaire for so many of the Lions moves and Joe Worsley put in one of the greatest defensive performances of the season.
There were rugby heroes across the whole team and I could have gone through each and every one of those who took the field.
And let’s not forget to tip our hats to John Smit and his Springboks, who showed in the first two Tests exactly why they are world champions.
The victory could have further ramifications, as I believe it will make the Lions stronger in their negotiations with the clubs and unions next time around.
It was an insult to the Lions to play the Heineken Cup final seven days before the first match of their tour this time. In 2013 the Lions must have a minimum of two weeks preparation time, when the whole squad can be together.
Having been privileged to follow the Lions around South Africa this time around I can confirm this team is too precious to be hamstrung when they come to take on the best in the world.
Only the World Cup comes within a million miles of a Lions tour and all I would ask is that the 2013 side is given a fair chance of beating Australia.
I hope the tour becomes a template for the home unions. In rugby union we often stand accused of taking life a little too seriously for projecting a poe-faced attitude. The Lions played with a smile on their faces on and off the field – other nations could learn from that.
They battled incredible odds to just be competitive against the world champions in their own backyard, and to even lose 2-1 is a testament to coaching abilities of Ian McGeechan.
Geech set the tempo from day one and he is going to be an awfully difficult person to replace.
I have said before the RFU or one of the other unions should offer him a job immediately, before someone else does, as he has a lot still to offer rugby union and a wealth of expertise I don’t want to see leave our great game.
On Saturday the Springboks made the ill-advised decision to wear white armbands saying ‘Justice for Bakkies’ – a show of solidarity for Bakkies Botha after he was banned for an illegal charge, committed in the second Test, which led to Lions prop Adam Jones dislocating his shoulder.
Most observes, Lions coach Warren Gatland included, believe the two-week ban was harsh on Botha, but the Springboks were wrong to protest in this way.
In the world we currently live in there are many, many injustices to protest against – the two-week suspension of a rugby player isn’t one of them.
Sportspeople can often lose perspective of what’s important in life, when they move into the squad ‘bubble’ and I believe this protest was one of them. I hope the International Rugby Board act swiftly and apply sanctions to the Springboks to ensure this is the last, and not the first of such protests.
We may not agree on the protest, but what everyone agrees is that this Lions tour has been a sensational event, both on and off the field.
Long live the Lions!