Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Tests

Now I appreciate that the original promise was I'd blog about every game. Well I didn't comment on the Brumbies or Rebels games a little bit out of protest against the sheer number of guys flown out to wear the shirt for one game. I accept there were injuries and it made more sense to play Shane Williams, for example, than risk a 'full' squad member, but it just cloyed with me that so many were called for.

Anyway, enough negativity. A first series win since 1997 more than made up for it. What a series as well. Not as brutal as South Africa 4 years ago, but still incredible intensity from both sides, epitomised by one of my favourite all time players, George Smith, picking himself of the turf after his huge head on collision with Richard Hibbard, to continue playing (after the 10min concussion test).

The first test showed how much the Aussies hate to lose. They have lost their way a little under Robbie Deans, but to come within a kick of winning the game shows how much quality they still posses. Or does it show the two rugby hemispheres really do referee the game completely differently? BOD certainly thought so. George North proved his finishing ability, I imagine the Franklins Gardens  faithful are licking their lips at the prospect of seeing him rampage around in a Saints shirt next season!

The second test was no different. I think everyone, even slightly, wanted an Australian win to go to a decider in Sydney. The Aussies duly delivered thanks to a relatively easy score by their stalwart centre Adam Ashley-Cooper 5 minutes from time. If the first test had shown the world Israel Folau's awesome finishing ability, not new to this writer though - he'd been tearing up the NRL for years and then (briefly) Aussie Rules, the second test proved AA-C is still one of the best 13s around. Aussies skipper James Horwill's tears at the end of the game showed how much the series meant to the home nation (or how nervous he was about the IRB possibly banning him). Proof, if you needed it, that the Lions still means a great deal to all involved.

The third test could have been remembered for the wrong reasons. IF the Lions had lost, all Gatland would've heard was that dropping BOD was the reason. Initially I might have agreed. However, he trusted Jonathan Davies to continue his great form from the previous Tests and earlier in the Tour and Jamie Roberts to be back to his destructive best. They were and with the metronomic kicking boot of Leigh Halfpenny and creativity of Jonny Sexton, Gatland's choices were fully vindicated. 4 good tries were run in by the tourists, including one for classic Lions 'bolter' Alex Corbisiero, and they waltzed away to the 'holy grail' of legendary Lions status.

A few things I've taken from this series:
▪there is life after BOD and Paul O'Connell for the Lions
▪the Lions brand is as strong as ever
▪I was wrong about Sam Warburton - he is getting back to his best and showed what a great leader he is becoming
▪no-one should concede kickable penalties against Wales - Halfpenny rarely misses

Robbie Deans has now lost his job as Aussie coach and been replaced by Ewen McKenzie of the Queensland Reds. I'm sure this will lead to Quade Cooper coming back at 10 - let's be honest, O'Connor was missing for large parts of the Tests. He might not even get in on the wing if Folau and Tomane continue as they are. An Aussie backline of Genia, Cooper, Barnes, AA-C, Folau, Timane & Beale might even worry the All Blacks (briefly!)

Thanks for sticking with these blogs f you have, I have greatly enjoyed writing them.