What a time to be Lions – three or British and Irish. It was so uplifting to see a nations spirits revived after so long under pressure. Yes, England’s Euro performance was more than a football odyssey. I have been so impressed with the personal connection the players made with the public and the honesty and humility with which they spoke. A huge change from the past, and rather different to what we have to put up with from other major sports these days. The coach has empowered them as individuals to share and trust.
Which is why to be repaid as they were by the lunatic fringe in this country is deeply shaming and makes me feel embarrassed as well as angry. Self inflicted on a number of levels too – a Final of some magnitude and the first for a football generation, an 8 pm kick off and known spare seats in a stadium. What did the authorities expect. To see such lawlessness was not just depressing but scary.
Meantime, I approached the weekend totally confused on the possibilities for the Springboks. The World Cup winning style was their last reference point and was never going to be repeated with a battle hardened Lions pack. Yet they persisted and totally ignored their potent backline who scarcely got a pass all match. Kolbe and Allende have been outstanding in Europe this year but may as well not have been on the pitch. Pollard has only played a handful of matches. Lastly, Kolisi and Smith would struggle to get into the top club backrows in Europe. Yet they could have won!
As for the B&I Lions, they were strangely subdued initially (what a hit on Daly!) and in awe of the status of their opponents. But at 12-3 which was totally self-inflicted, they were in reality much closer to their goal. Some good continuity play immediately found the Springboks at a loss with their discipline and it also revealed their lack of top rugby. Lions stars were few but crucial – Lawes, Itoje and Henshaw – and the general calmness under pressure was notable. Scottish contributions were significant and will help Unionist calls for sure!
No doubt for me that the empty stadium suited the B&I Lions, and to see such a great anthem so underpowered was heartbreaking for the occasion. The Springboks will get better (and may/have to move the ball around a bit more). So will the Lions, and they have picked a team to play out wide anyway. The ‘Bok-lash’ is certain but may end up rebounding in their faces, with a Lions intensity whipped up till further by comfortably the best Head Coach in World Rugby.
That all said, every neutral hopes for 1-all with 1 to play. Roll on the weekend.