David Corkery: Neither side deserved to win Lions test series that failed to spark

South Africa snatched a victory at the end of the third game but it was a tour that will be remembered for the wrong reasons
David Corkery: Neither side deserved to win Lions test series that failed to spark

South Africa's Bongi Mbonambi throws the ball to Lood De Jager in the line-out against the Lions. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

THIS loss will hurt the players and coaches of the Lions for the rest of their lives but, not because of the rugby that was played on the pitch. 

It will sting them more because of the rugby that was not played, for the opportunity they threw away.

Setting to one side all the stupid and childish mind games that both parties played via the various media platforms if the Lions were ever going to win a series in South Africa, this tour was the perfect opportunity.

When Warren Gatland, Alun Wyn Jones and the rest of the touring party look back at the three tests in years to come, they will be kicking themselves because of the negative way they opted to approach them.

To succeed in New Zealand or South Africa you have to take risks and play a brand of rugby that is adventurous and bold. When you turn it into an arm-wrestling competition that is built around how good your defence can be, your chances of succeeding are severely diminished.

It was a rather dull, sometimes depressing, and uninspiring trinity of matches that was sadly dictated by the decisions made by the officials.

Possession of the ball in rugby is probably the most important factor for sides looking to be inventive, productive and are hungry for try-scoring opportunities so, when you see fly-halves, scrum-halves and back three players kicking away you know defensive structures are viewed as priority.

I think we were all hoping that this third test might have pushed both camps into a risk and reward style but unfortunately not.

Lions' Tadhg Furlong celebrates after Ken Owens scores a try. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Lions' Tadhg Furlong celebrates after Ken Owens scores a try. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

I was delighted to see that the game was decided by a piece of brilliance by South Africa’s flying winger Cheslin Kolbe but it was to be the only moment of magic.

No one can question the physical endeavours or commitment shown by both, because at one stage in the first half some of the players looked as if they were cast members in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

This series was there for the tourists but, sport can never gratify everyone and the only emotion that can equal the euphoria of winning is the anguish of losing. I guess that's what makes sport such great.

You would like to say that the better team won but, on this occasion, I truly believe that neither side deserved to win or lose. The Lions, as they had done in the previous two tests started off the stronger and the scrum problems that they encountered in last week's loss seemed to be mended.

The departure of Dan Bigger after 10 minutes might have come across as a blow for how the Lions were going to play however, it was to be his replacement Scotland’s Finn Russell that kept the scoreboard ticking over. It's easy to call it now but, if Gatland wanted to really throw a cat amongst the pigeons he should have gone with Russell from the off.

His nonconformist, maverick style is something you would see in a Barbarians match but on this occasion, his lack of meaningful game-time curtailed his flamboyancy.

Lions' Bundee Aki comes up against Eben Etzebeth of South Africa. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Lions' Bundee Aki comes up against Eben Etzebeth of South Africa. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The midfield partnership of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki did well but, they did not give their support runners the kind of penetrating bursts they were selected for. Their opposing numbers Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende also knew exactly what they had to do in order to halt the duos physical advances and successfully did so.

The Springboks' backrow won most of the gain-line tussles, and their locks easily outplayed Alun Wyn Jones and Courtney Lawes as they did last week.

When this tour was given the green light, I was so happy because Lions tours are special and there are normally so many twists and turns that play a big part in determining the victors. However, if you were to ask me now, I would have to say I’d rather it didn’t go ahead.

World Rugby has a big issue on its hands in making the sport an interesting spectacle and if they don’t do something soon, the sport will very quickly fade away, ruined by the accountants who now run the game.

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