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« Lions left to rue what could have been |

July 5, 2009

Posted on 07/05/2009

Air Force Scrum brings Lions home





Liosn tour manager Gerald Davies looks pleased to be back on home soil at Heathrow © Getty Images
My tour began in the company of Lions and that was also how it ended - aboard the tourists' Air Force Scrum flight back to Heathrow this morning. I don't think my seat could have been any further away from the salubrious surroundings of first and business but there was certainly a feeling of having come full circle with the class of 2009 - from their leafy training base in Surrey to baggage reclaim at Terminal 5.

As with the end of any tour, be it mini rugby or the international stage, this one ended with players and coaches embracing and offering thanks in one final, emotionally charged act of what has been a rollercoaster of a tour. Those fans lucky enough to share their flight did their best to catch one more memento on their cameras and mobile phones and the Lions were just as obliging as ever.

And so the curtain falls on the 2009 British & Irish Lions' tour to South Africa - a truly memorable experience. I've been lucky enough to travel the world writing about this sport for the last ten years but this was my first Lions tour. Tour veteran Brian O'Driscoll recently remarked that playing for the Lions is "like a drug" in the fact that you can't get enough and I have to say that having witnessed this latest tour at close quarters I can understand his sentiments.

There remains something special about the Lions and I wouldn't mind betting that those who question their place in the modern game have not had the pleasure of following their fortunes at first hand. The spirit of the Lions is infectious and now wonder head coach Ian McGeechan urged the doubters to embrace the Lions just once.

"I just wish more of those people who don't want to make time for the Lions would come out and actually experience a Lions tour," said McGeechan.

But it is not as if the Lions as a brand are dying. Estimates have varied but it is safe to say at least 30,000 fans made the trip to South Africa and with that kind of commercial clout the Lions will be back bigger and even better in four years time. Let us not underestimate the role played by the Lions' fans in keeping the brand alive. The Lions' shirt is often cited as the greatest prize for British and Irish players and it is that same famous red jersey that appeals to the fans. They admire the players that go into battle wearing it but they come and go through the years - it is the shirt itself, and what it stands for - the history, the tradition - that has the masses hooked.

The 2005 tour of New Zealand was a failure in many ways and although this year's quest also ended in a series defeat the latest batch of Lions managed to repair much of the damage done to their reputation on their last outing. For that, huge credit must go to McGeechan and his tour manager Gerald Davies. They promised to return the Lions to their traditional roots and they did just that - and in doing so made new friends and repaired strained relationships.

I hope you have enjoyed the insight I have been able to offer and that you too have been bitten by the Lions bug. The Lions are back and I for one can't wait for Australia in 2013.

Lions Tour 2009 Awards:

Player of the Tour: Brian O'Driscoll
O'Driscoll bounced back from the disappointment of being passed over for the captaincy with a series of stand out performances. He also showed that you don't need to be skipper to be a leader on and off the field and was also hailed as the team's most potent threat in attack and the benchmark in defence by his captain Paul O'Connell. He formed a superb centre pairing with Jamie Roberts and his physical and mental commitment to the tour was astonishing.

Moment of the Tour: Ronan O'Gara's second Test cameo
The Irishman was immediately blamed for blowing the Lions' series chances with a costly 12-minute performance off the bench in Pretoria while others pointed out his apparent concussion and praised his bravery for refusing to settle for the draw. Either way, O'Gara's missed tackle and then clumsy challenge on Springboks scrum-half Fourie du Preez shaped the destiny of the Test series.

Rising Star: Heinrich Brussow
Springboks openside Heinrich Brussow tormented the Lions in Cheetahs colours during the warm-up clashes and returned to haunt the tourists in the Test series. The form player in his position in this year's Super 14, the 22-year-old capitalized on the arrival of the British & Irish Lions to boost his profile yet further. Word has it that his phone is ringing off the hook with European sides lining up to sign him but in this kind of the SA Rugby are unlikely to allow him to go anywhere.

Try of the Tour: Shane Williams, Lions v South Africa
Williams grabbed two tries in the Lions' victory over their hosts in the third Test in Johannesburg but it is his second that caught the eye - thanks largely to the skill of centre Riki Flutey. The Kiwi-born star chipped over the Boks' defence before beating fullback Zane Kirchner to the ball and off-loading to Williams with a superb piece of handling. A rare moment of magic.

Tackle of the Tour: Jean de Villiers, South Africa v Lions
The Springboks centre denied Lions winger Ugo Monye with an outstanding tackle in the closely-contested first Test in Durban that saw him get his arm under the ball to prevent the touchdown before dislodging the ball.

Quote of the Tour: "I don't think it should have been a card at all."
Springboks coach Peter de Villiersprovided the tour with the majority of its memorable sound bites - most of which were confusing at best. This one however - in the wake of Schalk Burger's yellow card in the opening minute of the second Test in Pretoria - was shocking. Burger was subsequently banned for eight weeks for 'making contact with the eye area' of Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald while De Villiers was forced into an apology for his rant.

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Comments

Posted eddy o on 07/10/2009

odriscoll only has to turn up to get awarded something. Did you even bother to check the test stats before bleating about his superb defense? No one missed more tackles than BOD , yes, that's right... no-one! But of course, the media and it's bandwaggoners(of which you are one) have this unwritten rule that one must disregard all errors madde by the great man and ignore everything that goes wayward. in terms of media coverage, here's a tip, if you're just like everybody else,what do you have to offer. BOD man of the series......surprise surprise.

Posted Graham Jenkins on 07/10/2009

Thanks for contributing to Scrum.com.

In regards the selection of O'Driscoll as Player of the Tour I make no apologies for my choice. The views of the players and coaches I spoke to only underlined my own impressions having watched him in matches and training throughout the tour. And I also believe O'Connell's observations to be very telling. Stats do not tell the whole story.

Posted Garrett Nolan on 07/11/2009

"Tour veteran Brian O'Driscoll recently remarked that playing for the Lions is "like a drug" in the fact that you can't get enough and I have to say that having witnessed this latest tour at close quarters I can understand his sentiments."

Graham, was this before or after the great man had ditched the sinking ship and headed home, though when I read some of the stuff written about BOD, I can understand how he wanted to get himself home to where he would be treated like a mere human.

In case you didn't notice Graham, Brian O'Driscoll missed the only test the Lions won!

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About
Graham Jenkins joined Scrum in 1999 and took over the reins for a second time in 2006. His journalistic career has also seen him work for BBC Sport and IMG and he currently lives with his family in Farnham. Graham Jenkins
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