By Alan Dymock
STAYIN’ ALIVE by the Bee Gees was a late 70s sentiment so powerful that it generated an eponymous follow-up movie to Saturday Night Fever in which John Travolta hustles to become a Broadway star.
Fast forward through a few decades and the funky lines of “Feel the city breakin’, and ev’rybody shakin’, and we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive” could well describe Dublin this Saturday as several British and Irish Lions give their all to win the the RaboDirect Pro12 title.
Last week Brian O’Driscoll sat out the Amlin Challenge Cup win at the RDS, with his body struggling to make it back that early. Another week has been endured and he lines up in the Pro12 final to face Ulster.
Another player struggling is Sean O’Brien, hobbled by bone bruising and a knocked knee. He has failed to pulled through to play in the final, but still makes the plane to Hong Kong with the rest of the Lions.
It is a tough weekend in prospect, with five Leinster Lions facing one Ulster Lion in Tommy Bowe, while six Leicester Lions face one Northampton Lion in Dylan Hartley in the Aviva Premiership final on the same day. That is a whole pride potentially in harm’s way.
It must be said that this is the nature of the beast, and hard rugby begets hard rugby. The players are selected because they are big game players, and while Warren Gatland will be worried about the shakin’ game at Twickenham as two Midlands rivals roar into London, or at the RDS where two Irish factions do bloody battle, he must be proud that he has competitive players.
It will be a short turnaround for these players, and already it was let slip this week by Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree that the likes of O’Brien would not be in line to play the BaaBaas in Hong Kong on June 1, even if he pulled through the Pro12 final. The finalists must survive, clamber on a plane days later and fly round the world. Some may have to play a small part in the first Lions outing – though it will be tough considering they have missed out on the intensive gelling process that other Lions have enjoyed in the last few weeks – and it does not get easier from here.
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One thing could be argued, though. These players cannot and will not half-heartedly wander through these finals. O’Driscoll and his boys have lost three Pro12 finals in a row and have vengeance in their hearts, particularly in Joe Schmidt’s last match in charge. Ulster have not won a trophy since 2006 and Bowe will, like any competitive winger on the grand stage, want to score in front of a delirious crowd. Leicester Tigers simply would not exist if they were not competitive every single year, such is their drive, and Hartley would scream and shout and try his hardest during a game of marbles if there was someone watching. He does not take a step back.
These Saturday finals will be tough to watch if you are a Lions coach, but if all involved can stay alive and play well in a bustling, brutal final it can only add to the funk of a Lions trip.