06 August 2021
Fifty weeks on, we've reached the finish line. The Lions and the Springboks owe it to the people who pay the bills to serve up a classic. Here’s hoping.
Both sets of players after the second Test in Cape Town. Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Sportsfile

Dear reader,

We are at the end of the longest season we’ve ever known. This time last year, rugby fans were eagerly anticipating Leinster v Munster at the Aviva Stadium, the first live rugby match in Ireland for six months, which was held on August 22.

Fifty weeks on, we’ve reached the finish line.

Since then, it’s a been relentless march towards tomorrow’s Lions finale in South Africa. We finished the suspended season in the autumn and then launched straight into the 2020/21 campaign. Already, the provinces are in pre-season training and the next campaign is around the corner.

Rugby fans deserve a grand finale before a well-earned break. Last week’s bad-tempered, overly long kick-fest was not a good reflection on the sport, and anecdotally, I’m aware of many floating voters who have already switched off.

It is a great shame that this event, which should be a highlight of the sporting calendar, has been soured by the on and off-field events of the past fortnight.

After all of the selection debate, the long and winding warm-up games and the build-up to the first Test it has been a bit of a damp squib.

I was lucky enough to be in South Africa as a freelance in 2009 and was in New Zealand with the Irish Independent four years ago.

Those Lions series were career highlights, there is something remarkable about the coming together of the fans of the four nations, the vibe on the ground in the host cities and in the stadiums is genuinely special.

Above all else, this series has missed that off-field element. Rather than mingling in bars after the game and reaching consensus, fans have been confined to the toxic margins of social media and the echo of an empty stadium and tinned crowd noise has done little to lift the sense of animosity on the pitch.

Supporters are the life-blood of the sport, but they are asked to fork out multiple television subscriptions to watch matches at anti-social times of the day while being continually locked out of their stadiums due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s been a rough 18 months for those of us who love nothing more than getting together in and around stadiums, travelling to away games and the buzz and tension in the minutes before a game kicks off.

Of course, fans should be back in reasonable numbers when rugby resumes next month and travel should soon be on the cards.

It will be amazing to see the sea of blue, red, green and white in the four provincial stadiums, to hear the Lansdowne roar greet the Haka in November and to welcome away fans to Dublin when the Six Nations gets back to some form of normality.

That’s the hopeful scenario and forgive me for signing off for the season on an optimistic note.

Having been in multiple empty stadiums over the last year, while covering non-Irish games off the television, I can’t wait to experience something like a full-house once again.

For one last weekend, it’s back to what has become business as usual.

Everyone deserves some credit for getting rugby back up and running and negotiating the Covid crisis, the administrators, coaches and players who have produced some stunning moments over the course of a long and winding year.

The fans too deserve to be lauded for sticking with it, for hanging in there – especially when the rugby has been truly hard to watch like last weekend.

There’s 80 minutes left, one last push and then a chance to come up for air before a new season with new possibilities beckons.

The Lions and the Springboks owe it to the people who pay the bills to serve up a classic. Here’s hoping.

Readers’ corner

Dave Kelly is concerned about the direction rugby is moving and believes a strong finish to the Lions series is imperative to securing the future success of the sport. The Lions, I believe, need speed to survive and Cian Tracey has written about the influence of Munster’s Damian de Allende on these Springboks.

The Collision will be taking a break for the short off-season, so let me take this opportunity to thank you for subscribing and reading. As ever, I’d welcome your feedback on how we could do things better, any questions or queries are welcome and it won’t be long until we’re back looking ahead to the 2021/22 campaign. You can email me at r.oconnor@independent.ie or contact me by DM @Ruaidhrioc on Twitter.

Enjoy the game,

Ruaidhri

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