Emphatic Third Test Triumph Preserves Precious Rugby Institution

As the final whistle blew in the third and decisive test at the ANZ Stadium, it confirmed what most of us had known and believed from the very start of Warren Gatland’s tour Down Under: even today, in the modern, cut-throat business of professional rugby union, the Lions remain an important, relevant and sacred entity.

The cameras panned round to reveal players, coaches, backroom staff and supporters alike celebrating, shaking hands and embracing one another in a moving display of spirit and solidarity. The emotional scenes being broadcast to millions around the globe embodied all of rugby’s most treasured values.

The touring side, enjoying only their fifth series victory in one-hundred-and-twenty-five years of existence, had faced dispute, injury and agonising defeat along the way. Yet bereft of their captain, and the legendary Brian O’Driscoll for the third and decisive test match, they triumphed in a crushing twenty-five point victory, smashing several records in the process.

It was a tour where controversy reigned – selections and call-ups are always a hot topic for debate, but the sheer intensity and strength of feeling surrounding Gatland’s decisions was arguably unprecedented in the rugby world. This was never more evident than in the lead-up to Saturday’s unforgettable clash in Sydney, where the head coach staked his reputation on a bruising line-up, and sensationally dropped veteran centre O’Driscoll from the twenty-three-man squad. Many, including the author, voiced their concerns over the effectiveness of this physical game plan, and the lack of any discernible Plan B should it fail to bear fruit. We needn’t have worried. Gatland’s selection gambles paid off, and the Lions played with a confidence and verve in attack that hitherto in the first and second test had only briefly raised its head.

Having gone sixteen years without a tour victory, some raised questions over the viability, and worthiness of the Lions model in the build-up to this series. These disapproving voices rose to an indignant crescendo following Gatland’s heavy reliance on his Welsh charges, putting his faith in a hugely abrasive but largely unexciting style of rugby – dubbed “Warrenball” by his critics. Some claimed that a Lions success in this manor would represent a hollow victory, while others went as far as to suggest that they would be abandoning their team and backing the Wallabies in the final showdown, such was their frustration and disillusionment.

In fact, with such a divisive and poisonous air surrounding the series, it seemed that the very concept of the Lions itself was under threat. This no doubt contributed to the “siege mentality” mentioned by members of the backroom staff as Saturday’s deciding fixture approached – with a coach bearing the brunt of worldwide scrutiny, a team facing the biggest game of their lives, and heavy criticism flying in from all sides, it was easy to see why.

But a cornered Lion is a dangerous one. In a speech before the second test of the last successful Lions tour in 1997, the legendary Sir Ian McGeechan warned his players that “when an animal is wounded, it fights for its very existence.” Just as the South African Springbok was to battle to keep that series alive, the Lions of 2013 had to triumph to ensure not only a decisive test victory, but the safeguarding of arguably the most special and unique aspect of world rugby.

Certainly, there are issues to be addressed come 2017, and the next British and Irish voyage to the Southern Hemisphere. The size of the playing squad was arguably too small to cope with the rigours of such a physical end-of-season campaign, and the Lions’ injury list resulted in no fewer than nine call-ups to the touring party. This was exacerbated by a cramped schedule of fixtures, with the duration of the tour itself subject to criticism. In addition, the provincial franchises’ decisions to field weakened line-ups in favour of the Super 15 tournament was both disappointing and largely unnecessary – causing frustration among players and fans, and unsurprisingly sparking allegations of gamesmanship.

The powerful cocktail of emotions stirred and shaken up by the enormity of such a success began to spill over as the final test reached its conclusion. With players and coaching staff celebrating passionately and, in some cases, shedding tears, the unbreakable bond forged between Lions and spoken of by the greats of days gone by was evident in its rawest form. This squad brought to the fore in emphatic style the principles on which the sport has built its reputation, ensuring that unwavering team spirit, courage and fortitude are the lasting memories of the tour, and in the process upholding one of the game’s most cherished concepts. It has not been heard in these parts for many a year, but on Saturday night, the roar of the Lion bellowed out across the Southern Hemisphere.

By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)

23 thoughts on “Emphatic Third Test Triumph Preserves Precious Rugby Institution

  1. Much like BOD ( :-)) I find it a little bittersweet. Awesome we won. Loved it. So excited.

    However last week was one of the worst weeks I’ve had as a rugby fan. The discourse on this blog was mostly genteel in the extreme compared to some of the professional and social media bilge that was out there. So for me I’m not sure I want to see another tour. Loved the rugby, love the players, love the result. But I want to remember rugby as a game where I have a laugh and a beer and a wind up with English fans, not one that could descend into football animosity.

    As for the rugby – Wales under Warren have often played with panache but only after the forwards and midfield have beaten up the oppo first. When we fail to do that the backs rarely come into it. The schock of the running rugby on Saturday was a bit odd given how many tries we’ve scored through the backs under Warren. Once we had Aus out flat we unleashed the backs. To my mind that is the very definition of rugby.

    1. I agree Brighty but the stat that winds me up is the ’16 years since a win’ the media bang on about, its a pointless stat to me considering the tours are every four years, if they were every year then yes I’d agree.

      Its going to be a shame for the tabloid media who can no longer bleat how long it is since a Lions Series win or a British Male to win Wimbloedon………. Ah I guess they always have the overpaid fancy-dan, also rans of the English football team to fall back on.

      I was a doom sayer before the third test and fully expected The Wallabies to win, but the style and the way The Lions dismantled them was a joy to behold, always good to see The Aussies take a pounding.

    2. “But I want to remember rugby as a game where I have a laugh and a beer and a wind up with English fans, not one that could descend into football animosity.”

      brighty, you make it seem a lot like you were a victim here. i think a fair amount of the “football animosity” arose when you failed to accept any criticism of a welsh play (as an example, you criticised the ratings because Lydiate got less than SOB, even though SOB clearly did more). i am not saying that you were particularly the one getting agro, but your disregard for a negative comment about a welsh player definitely helps stoke the fire.
      i am not trying to start an argument, i just find it amazing that you are ignoring the fact that so many of your comments lead to these arguments that you are referring to.

      1. Simo, that’s just not right. One – disagreeing with the rating is allowed. I don’t have to agree with the Lyds rating. Saying that somehow makes it ok to be anti welsh or descend into acrimony and abuse is wrong. Saying that a person disagreeing with something justifies whatever follows is tosh.

        Saying i only disagree because Lyds is Welsh is also a bit cheap.

        Two – I don’t have to accept any opinions whatsoever. I can agree with the right to have them, be civil in disagreeing with them, but I do not have to silently agree with any of them.

        I could level the exact same accusations back at you but I won’t because a) of the reasons above ie you are also entitled to disagree with whatever you want and b) I’m sure you think that all of your responses are entirely ok. That’s the thing with this stuff, offence taken is always in the eye of the beholder.

        Also I noted that this blog was largely not where the real acrimony was, most of the crap I read was nothing to do with responding to anything I said.

        1. “that’s just not right”- could 4 words have proven my point any more?

          Its one thing to say that you disagree, but you are telling people that they are (and I quote) “not right”. By all means, disagree with someone, that’s fine. But when you start using words (and you do) like “not right, incorrect, wrong” then you start suggesting (whether on purpose or not) that other people’s opinions are incorrect, and therefore yours is the correct one.

          Fine to disagree with the rating, but you simply claimed it was not correct, you did not offer any sort of justification as to why you felt he deserved more. Therefore this once again does not show you disagreeing and offering a counter point, but simply stating the initial point is not right. As long as you provide a counter argument then no one can justifiably complain. To simply disagree suggests that your word is law. It makes it out that you aren’t up for a debate, because no one is worthy of your knowledge.

          At no point did I say that it was ok to be anti-welsh, you on the other hand, are so pro-welsh, that you take offence when none is there. To hunt out the criticism of Lydiate, when there wasn’t much there, shows how defensive you are with regards to the welsh. The review for Lydiate was pretty positive overall. It says he made some good chop tackles and was solid. That is what lydiate is picked for. But you don’t grade players on a relative personal scale (ie how much they fill potential), you grade them on their actual performance. Lydiate was the least effective member of the backrow, and probably the entire pack (I would say team, but Phillips played).
          In fact, you have even admitted the fact that you can read too much into things when you have been defensive “Perhaps I’m just reading too much into this article because it’s come hot on the heels of all the “Gatland picks his mates” stuff so I am wrongly tarring this with the same brush? I could see an argument for that.”

          Saying you disagree with comments because Lydiate is welsh may be a bit cheap, and yet it always seem to be the welsh players that you jump to the defence of.

          You don’t have to agree with anything, I am not saying that you do. But as I have stated already, there is disagreeing, and then there is telling someone that they are wrong. A conflict of opinions is very different to being right and wrong.

          Feel free to level the same accusations at me. I am more than happy to admit that I am pro-English. I am also pro players that are my favourites. In fact, until this lions tour I was a very big fan of Lydiate. But your constant lack of willingness of him has caused me to be overly critical, and I am now less of a fan.
          I always try to justify why I disagree with something, hence why most of my posts seem to be mini-essays.
          I do think that MOST (I know not all are, in fact I hesitated before calling you up on this) posts I write are ok. As I have said, I try and justify why my opinion is different. I also do my best to see the other person’s point of view, which I why I like them to explain in more depth why they feel a certain why. You on the other hand seem to jump in, claim someone’s opinion is incorrect, and then get bored when they try to counter you. “Not sure where this is going so would rather we just disagree and I’d just say that you are not correct in what I feel when replying.”

          I got that you noted that this blog was “largely” not the source of the acrimony. But we all know that you used the word “largely” to have a pop at a few people from this last week.
          Also, offering a counter opinion is fine, but a fair amount of the time you seem to have used the blog for a chance to gloat.
          “Sorry Peter, I can’t hear you for all the roaring going on in this pub. Gats vindicated. Best British and Irish side since 97. Brilliant. Majestic. Power, guile and quality. LIONS!!!!!!!”
          “Ha ha. 41-16. Ha ha. Poor selection. I wish we selected this poorly for every match. Ha ha. Enjoy, ooops, sorry, I forgot you didn’t enjoy, supporting the Aussies today. How did that go for you? Bitter much? Mwah ha ha ha ha. I’m off for another celebratory pint, enjoy your draught of twisted self pity. Ooops. More name calling from me. Sorry. I’m just so giddy with happiness right now, can you imagine what that feels like? Lions fans know exactly how it feels.”
          These are hardly opinions, are they brighty? In fact, when I read these yesterday I was embarrassed to have supported the same side as you.

          As I said at the start, I am not here to argue, I just think that you painting yourself has the victim is a bit rich. After all, another blogger posted this about you “I have seen you jump of more than enough people on here for just saying they disagree with selection – in fact, I think I have seen more comments about bias and separating nations form you than from anyone else. I just find it strange and very defensive that’s all.”

          once again, i am not here to argue, so feel free to reply as you feel, i have made my points and will leave it here.

          1. That is an incredibly self righteous rant. I love the little “im not here to argue but..” stuff when you clearly are.

            I do not have to say “in my opinion”. Anything I say is my opinion. If I say Lydiate is a brilliant player then it’s my opinion. If you want to take offence that it sounds like a fact then that is your problem.

            Simo, I will never post the way you think I should. I will never say things the way you think I should. In short I will never do what you think is the right thing. It’s not really worth you keep trying to tell me how to do things. Shall we leave it there? I am asking, not telling. The reason I am asking, rather than further elaborating, is that this will not be a fruitful conversation. You have made up your mind about my attitude, i strongly suspect i will mot convince you otherwise. You’re wrong and I can be sure of that as you cannot possibly know my own head, so it’s not rude to say that is wrong.

            Painting myself as the victim? I do not feel victimised at all. Saying there was bile and acrimony is not saying I was a victim. I’m not small enough to be offended or think I was being victimised.

          2. To get back to rugby – “Lydiate was the least effective member of the backrow, and probably the entire pack”. In your opinion, not mine. This idea that Lyds was the worst is an opinion, not universally shared, and hence is what I was mentioning on a completely different thread. I asked why, given the write up summarised that Lyds did broadly what SOB did, but SOB was supposed to be the seven, was Lyds deemed to have a lower score? In my mind Lyds was crucial in aggressively tackling the Aussies or pushing em out wider, as others on here have discussed before (ie as a six the stats do not tell the whole story cos often you are pushing players into the arms of others or forcing a pass to be made, neither of which appear in stats).

            So you think I am unreasonably defending Lyds, I think he is being unreasonably singled out as the worst performer in the pack. You assign Welsh biased motives to me. You tell me I have not argued my point sufficiently so that it just comes across as annoying disagreement. In fact, you seem to be telling me I’m doing an awful lot wrong. Again, I disagree and wouldn’t feel like telling you what you are doing wrong.

          3. Quite frankly Simo, a number of people from last week deserved a pop after that result.

            All the bile about Gatland ruining the lions tradition and people posting that they only minded because there were so many welsh was capped off by a number of people stating that they would support the Aussies now.

            This kind of rubbish clearly affected both Gatland and the players and the fact that they answered these idiots with a perfomance like Saturday’s is brilliant

            To my mind, Brighty’s comments in this regard are not only entirely justified but quite frankly, are rather restrained

          4. Simo, I’m with Pablito on this one. This isn’t about a few strongly made points on a blog. The bile directed towards Gatland & co actually took the shine off the win for them.

            What should have been a joyous occasion for a coach was something he could barely celebrate at the end. AWJ also clearly massively affected. JD saying he is “public enemy number 1”.

            I don’t recall the like ever happening before and I hope it never happens again.

        2. I don’t completely agree with Simo but he has quoted me in his argument so I will come in on this.

          Whilst I understand that there way a minority that were completely wrong in their response to last weeks team selection, there were also many people that were jumped on by Brighty for disagreeing with selection without saying anything about not supporting the Lions or having many welsh players involved. That is why I jumped with the comment that Simo has quoted me on. Brighty became very very defensive and jumped on everyone disagreeing with selection. Whilst I understand he was obviously and understandably frustrated whilst writing those comments, it could easily have been misconstrued by those being replied to by Brighty – so I can see where Simo is coming from.

          1. Jacob,Simo,Matt,Pablito – thanks for the responses. I think the spread of them indicates, to me, that there is a diverse set of opinions on how to go about disagreeing, discussing, etc. So I doubt we’ll ever get a uniform style that everyone is happy about. I’d say what I always say – if you’re unhappy with what I’ve said then please tell me why it’s wrong (as an opinion of course) and leave out telling me that the way I said it was wrong as that is as much an opinion as anything else.

            When I put forward a positive response or dispute a negative review of a player I don’t feel I am defending them, they don’t need it.

            I don’t understand when I’ve “jumped on” people because it would seem to me that in some eyes disagreeing with someone, even very strongly e.g. “god, that’s a load of rubbish” is seen as being jumped on. It shouldn’t be, this is a forum so views will get responses if they are interesting. If you feel jumped on then I refer you to my previous comment about styles of response.

            I’m not here to defend Welsh rugby, I’m here to convince everyone of what I already know, that Welsh rugby and the Welsh players are the best in the world. :-)

          2. I am in a much better mood today. Sorry for being a tool Brighty.

            It’s a fair point that the others were being childish and you called them on it.

            Fair points regarding Lydiate and the “non-work” that he does.

  2. It was a fantastic tour and I never want to see it go anywhere. Going down to Australia was the best rugby experience a fan can have. I went to the World Cup in 2011 and 2007 to follow England and it was great, but nothing compared to being at a Lions test.

    Completely agree with Brighty about the football style animosity that descended over the past week. I am all for disputing decisions and debating selection, but it did get way out of hand.

    I personally can’t wait until 2017, and I’ll do my best to make sure I am down there.

  3. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Lions. It’s a blend of love hate soup. I was happy to see the likes of Faletau, Zebo and Tiulagi etc. in the team. Aussies have a good diverse team, so if it was diversity against homogeneity, I probably wouldn’t even support the Lions. But that’s my mind.

    Long before we had world cups, we had tours. It’s special for that reason. As an Irishman, It’s also a shout-out to the Commonwealth which is a part of our history and a proud part in many ways too, so it’s become more special to me than I thought it would have. Long may it continue. But lets not get too soft. Bring on the 6N!

  4. As well as the historical/traditional/romantic reasons for the continuation of the Lions let’s not forget it’s current value. It generates huge revenue for the game, I would guess as a brand value maybe second only to the ABs. The more revenue the game can get (and the improved distribution of it to support teams such as Samoa) the better.

    Leaving the distribution of revenue aside, top 3 things I would like to change:
    – Start the tour 2 weeks later, lets face the facts now, the lure of the big bucks in France is going to continue to attract top B+I players. Having a schedule that makes it difficult to include them, or taking them with no prep, isn’t a recipe for success. No point ignoring it, accept it and plan around it. It can be argued that IRB regulations allow for players to be picked and extracted from club commitments, but why put players in a difficult position with their clubs if it can be avoided.
    – Tour for 1 week longer (get an agreement from clubs that touring players miss the first few games of the next season to manage player workload, this seems more viable than pulling players out of cup finals and play off games at the end of a season). Probably would add 1 more game to the fixture list, but have 1 week where there is no Tues game.
    – Include other nations. OK a full tour to Argentina isn’t realistic as the England tour has shown there’s not enough strength in depth. Don’t see why the host country can’t include a match against, for example, Samoa, PI Lions or Argentina. You could get a pretty competitive North American squad out of Canada + USA as well. It broadens the interest and provides a tougher test than some scratch representative team (or one that is prioritising it’s local club derby). Hopefully it could boost the coffers of some of these unions as well.

    1. Completely agree with all of this. Would be really interesting to see how it would work with other countries involved. Would it take something away from the tour by not playing the regional sides? Not sure.

      Also, I would like to see no midweek games once the test matches come along. It is an unwelcomed distraction. You saw the Brumbies game, it was so difficult to play wit injuries and first test looming – doesn’t really work for me.

      1. I would be looking at an 11 game tour over 7 weeks.

        – 3 tests
        – 5 super rugby franchises
        – Emerging Boks/Wallabies or NZ Maori. If no ’emerging’ side available then one more game in the category below.
        – 2 other games (e.g. from the likes of PI Lions, Argentina, North American “Lions” or Samoa)

        Get rid of the midweek game leading up to the first test, as rest/recovery/prep are clearly prioritised over this game. Midweek game between the first and second test is really valuable though. Players couldn’t double up and make the second test, but I think it’s the performances against the Rebels that brought the likes of Faletau right into contention for the 3rd test.

        1. Not sure how you would decide the other fixtures though, that is the problem.

          The likes of Samoa would love to be involved in every tour – and so would many nations. Japan leading up to 2019 in particular.

          I think just 2 or 3 games against them isn’t enough really. Would European sides then also want to get involved? It could get very political.

          1. Agree it’s difficult to find a perfect solution, the current one of Aus, SA and NZ being the only major financial beneficiaries is pretty imbalanced though. If you are then flying club props from one side of the country to another to make up some scratch side it’s clearly not a quality challenge.

            Rotating through the options every 2 or 3 tours is better than the current situation in my opinion. A stop in Japan on the way to NZ in 2017 is a great call though, perfect way to build global interest ahead of 2019.

        2. Also 7 weeks is too long in the current rugby calendar. Some players went from domestic finals, to the Lions, and are now back at pre-season training already. It’s crazy that there isn’t more time for it.

          1. Only works if players have a delayed start to the next season. Suspect it would be easier to negotiate this (especially for B+I based players) than pulling players out of end of season games. It’s not like missing all of the RWC players from all nations for a big chunk of the season so think the impact could be managed. Everyone is back and playing well before European games/AIs.

  5. I think it would be great to see the lions playing a couple of warm ups against lesser nations, surely a test against the US en route would do wonders for the profile of the game there, and probably warrant a major stadium outing.

    I found the whole BOD thing bizarre – you pick the players to make up the team who can play the game you want. He didn’t have a bad tour, but he certainly wasn’t playing like the BOD of old. Given the form of the welsh center pairing, and the overall lack of game time, any coach would have gone with a pairing who know each other inside out unless someone is in the form of their life.

    IMO one of the biggest problems the home nations have is that for years they have selected on reputation before form. If you look at the sother hemisphere, especially NZ, no one is undropable.

    We all love a fairy tale ending, but I will take a victory every time.

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