Monday, 4 January 2010

Sporting Picks of 2009, Part 2 - July 4th

South Africa 9 British Lions 28

The British and Irish Lions finished their South Africa tour on a spectacular high with a stunning victory in the final Test in Johannesburg. Faced with the prospect of a first series whitewash by the Springboks in 118 years, Ian McGeechan's men cast aside the agony of their last-gasp second Test defeat with a performance bursting with pride and passion.

A first-half brace from Wales wing Shane Williams, his first tries of the tour, saw the Lions take a commanding 15-6 half-time lead. Ugo Monye's 70m interception effort after 54 minutes extended the tourists' advantage before Morne Steyn landed his third penalty for the hosts.

But two late penalties from Stephen Jones put the seal on the Lions' first Test win since Brisbane in 2001, and South Africa's first defeat at Ellis Park for eight years.

It was deserved reward for the Lions' contribution to a thrilling series, and a fitting way for McGeechan to bow out, if indeed this is his final Test after seven tours as a player and head coach.

This Lions tour could have been the last Lions tour. In an ever changing world, the Lions could have begun to look like an anachronism had this tour not been so close a sporting contest. As the piece above points out, the Lions last win was the first test of their Australian tour 8 years ago as the then World Champions won both th Melbourne and then in Sydney. Four years ago, an over bloated backroom team led by Clive Woodward, then fresh from leading England to World Cup glory, were taken apart by New Zealand. That tour remains to this day an object lesson in how not to organise a Lions tour.

This time McGeechan had been brought in as head coach. McGeechan had been in charge for both the 1993 and ’97 tours (to New Zealand, lost 2-1, and South Africa, won 2-1, respectively). Northern hemisphere Rugby had also moved on from the assumption that the Lions side would be made up of a majority of Englishmen. This assumption in particular was broken by a second Grand Slam of the decade for Wales followed up by Ireland’s first Grand Slam since 1948, having fallen against France in 2007.

The stage was set for the Lion’s tour to the current World Champions. What was not anticipated was how close a contest the series would turn out to be. South Africa were out of sight with 20 minutes to go in the first test, but conceded 3 quick tries to only win by 3 points. The second test was a fractious affair which came down to a last gasp penalty from Steyn which settled a match which the Lions could have won and were drawing before Steyn’s penalty. The Third test saw a continuation of that bad blood as the Lions gained a well deserved win during this series.
After the disaster of 2005, it was a case of pride restored as the Lions despite the series defeat could come home with their heads held high.

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