Wednesday 13 December 2017

James Corrigan: Gatland should be applauded for uniting four countries

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland and Brian O'Driscoll following the game
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland and Brian O'Driscoll following the game

James Corrigan

Mission accomplished, series won, the entire concept of the Lions has been validated. That is the only important fact after the record-breaking win over the Wallabies.

Yes, they will bang on about Warren Gatland being vindicated, about his faith in his Welshmen bearing fruit, about the selection gamble paying off spectacularly. What a load of nonsense.

There were 23 matchday heroes on the pitch celebrating at the end and not even half of them came from west of the Severn Bridge.

This was a collective British and Irish effort and anyone who stills doubts that did not recognise the contributions of Alex Corbisiero, Jonny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Geoff Parling and others in Sydney and elsewhere on the tour.

They were integral to this stunning success and that’s why this was one of the Lions' greatest days, if not the greatest in the context of all the anachronism accusations. Lions history didn’t just want this - it demanded this.

Of course, it was red-shirted glory which felt familiar to any recent Six Nations viewers. It had to be with Leigh Halfpenny kicking like a metronome and making defenders look like garden gnomes as he set up two Lions tries.

It had to be with George North making ever bigger strides to becoming, unquestionably, the most destructive runner in world rugby.

It had to be with Jamie Roberts punching man-sized holes in an Asutralian defence which suddenly buckled in incredible fashion, with Toby Faletau and the newest of captains fantastic Alun-Wyn Jones going well beyond the call of duty in the loose.

It had to be with Adam Jones smashing the opposing scrum to smithereens.

Yet do not underplay Corbisiero’s influence in that regard. The platform to this victory was so obviously the set-piece and in the young Englishman, Jones was at last given an ally who could not only live up his to his power but actually complement it. Australia had nowhere to go but backwards.

Naturally, the home side fought back. Australia always do. But their resistance was built on opportunism and did not, truly, have a hope if the Lions focused on their strengths.

As the minutes counted down to that decisive final quarter alarm bells were sounded in certain quarters about the lack of Lions leaders on the field.

It was a thinly-veiled reference to Brian O’Driscoll. Ultimately, the great man wasn’t required. He could only look down from the stands and see the present and future of British and Irish rugby so emphatically grasp its immortality.

For Gatland this was sweet. There were some ridiculous slurs made on this fine coach in the build-up and he would have evry right to put up two fingers to the naysayers.

It wasn’t about picking his favourites, about nationality, about looking tough in dropping a legend, about a one-dimensional gameplan.

It was about beating Australia and if anybody knows how to do pull that off it is a canny Kiwi. One dimensional? How silly that charge seemed as the red sea came in so many waves.

The Lions committee should be proud of themselves for picking Gatland, just as he should be proud for ignoring all the petty, parochial bickering, for staying true to his beliefs and for uniting the four home nations into a winning force.

That’s what makes the Lions special. And after the siege of Sydney, rugby union can confirm that the British and Irish Lions are still very, very special.

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