I saw some footage of the 1974 Lions Tour of South Africa recently. Punches and kicks rained down, premeditated thuggery, the legendary 99 call. JPR running in from 40 yards for a fight – more yardage than any back has managed so far on this tour! Then think to the brutality of the second test in 2009 – but what drama. In between, the rugby itself was magnificent, bold and heart stopping. Legends were created. Unfortunately this tour has had such a lack of class that people can only see the downside. This weekend is about redemption on a number of levels as well as the result.
Rugby has survived all this and will survive again – the next generation will fall in love even if the relationship is stormy and unpredictable.
As for the match itself, Gatland picked a tour squad on current form and with creativity in mind. England’s relative weakness in the backs has been a problem for him, reducing options. So he will roll some dice and try to work around the aggressive Springboks defence (at least off the bench) as well as pick combinations that know each other, important when the pressure is on.
The eagle eye of digital technology means that a hair out of place can catch the attention so it is unlikely that the winning team will fluke their way to victory, whatever the controversy of the first two tests.
My only comment on the unacceptable comments about the refereeing and officiating is that in my six years as Chairman of EPCR I have refused to countenance such behaviour and the organisation has not allowed it, even to contradict World Rugby on a few occasions, and rightly. We have steadfastly supported all our referees in their actions to promote safety and for their impartiality. They are also human beings with limitations like the rest of us. Let no-one in their glasshouse throw even one stone… I expect rugby leadership to deal with this and if certain people cannot see beyond their own inadequacies and have to find fault with referees then they should suffer the consequences.