It would be nice to be able to say that the third and deciding Test was better than what we witnessed in the previous two, but that would be stretching exaggeration to the absolute limit.
ow about this, and forgive the grammar, it was less worse but still awful.
The last six weeks, and particularly the last three, has seen the game at the highest level dragged to a new and, for me, unprecedented low.
Willie John McBride, the most capped Lions Test player in history and perhaps the name most synonymous with the brand (given that’s what it now is), attempted in the build-up to Saturday’s ‘cup final’ (Warren Gatland’s words not mine) to vent his frustration that “the tour has been a mess from start to finish, eight games is not a Lions tour, it’s a trip”.
We’ll not labour the point but he went on to describe what he was witnessing as “rubbish”.
Tension is central to the game particularly at the highest level and we did get that. Right up to the final blast of Mathieu Raynal’s over-used whistle (fully in keeping with messrs Berry and O’Keeffe) the ‘cup final’, and by extension the series, was in the balance right to the end. If that equates with excitement then we truly are living in a sad world.
It was bog quality rugby. Now let’s be clear here – no one is calling for a laissez-faire Barbarian approach.
It is not nor has it ever been the South African way and clearly the best of the four home unions had chosen the Springbok route to take them on on their own patch. Call it Warrenball if you will but either way it’s muck.
Is it too much to ask that the best of the home nations deliver more than two maul tries and a Robbie Henshaw half-break in four hours (and we’re being overly generous here) of Test rugby? Bear in mind the host nation and reigning world champions hadn’t played together since taking that title against England in Tokyo in November of 2019. Over 18 months without a Test match and still they manage to find a way and come out on top.
I know I speak for many, not least my own contemporaries, when I say that rugby is becoming an increasingly hard watch.
This abomination of a series has taken it to a new low in spectator entertainment. How those participating enjoy it is beyond me. They are of course following ‘the process’ and those who’s word must be obeyed.
Oh and just for the record back in the Sky Studio at the interval the main presenter, while of course doing his job, informed us that “we are witnessing an absolute thriller”. Indeed on that very point of presentation the mere fact that Nigel Owens, the greatest referee of all time in my book, is being employed as a co-commentator, tells you all you need to know as to where the game is at, where lies the new emphasis and the unadulterated mess it now is.
The Springboks were surprisingly slow out of the blocks in the opening half while the introduction of Finn Russell just 10 minutes in introduced a different type of playmaking energy.
Indeed, had the Lions not messed up two gilt-edged try-scoring chances, with Tom Curry and Liam Williams the main culprits, they could well have been out of sight by the break in what was always guaranteed to be a low-scoring encounter. With 69pc possession and 58pc territory they were physically and psychologically on top.
But they knew what was coming in the second half and it did. It was brutal as ever but with one caveat; providing there are Cheslin Kolbes in our game we have hope.
Morne Steyn tilted the balance on the scoreboard, and what an amazing achievement at 37 that is, but as in the World Cup it is Kolbe who provides the memories and whatever hope exists of escaping this logjam of brain dead, minimal risk, aerial tripe.
From an Irish perspective, it will make for a mini tour best remembered by Henshaw followed by Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan, then Conor Murray, Tadhg Beirne, Bundee Aki, Iain Henderson – and probably in that order.
Away from the Cape Town dross there is hope with New Zealand as ever, Japan and France leading a discernable shift in emphasis.
Definite signs too in the end of season English domestic premiership. But no matter how we dress it up the last few weeks has been a dreadful advert for rugby.
However, such is the magical appeal of sport that within 24 hours we were witnessing the fulfillment of a young girl’s dream through sporting excellence and in the process seeing natural humility at its very best. Without youngsters wanting to be the next Cheslin Kolbe or Kellie Harrington there is no tomorrow.
A lot more than a Lions series was lost in South Africa.