I have to admit that I half-expected the Lions to come off second best but, then again, I half-expected them to lose the first two Tests, as well. They surprised and thrilled me on those occasions but this time they couldn't provide the match-winning moments.
The reason for this was that they were trying to play an open and expansive game without the right players in the right positions. With that back row of Rob Wainwright, Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back they badly needed a bit of extra thrust from the backs. And that requirement calls for a swift, attacking full-back which Neil Jenkins isn't.
I mean no criticism of Jenks. He has had a great tour and confirmed what I have long thought - that he is the finest kicker in the world. I've studied kickers alI my life and I would place him alongside Grant Fox as the best kickers ever in both codes.
But he is not a complete full-back at this level. The commentators said that he looks as if he's been in that position all his life. He hasn't; he's only played there in internationals this season and that's it. He is an outside-half. That's the position he prefers and that's where he should have played yesterday.
With Jenks at outside-half and Tim Stimpson at full-back, the Lions would have given the Springboks far more trouble. As it was, most of those passing movements that gave the Lions' fans so much hope were taking place behind the advantage line. There was no powerful thrust from the back that would have pierced the first line of the South African defence. Stimpson would have hit the line hard enough to give us that thrust.
Moving the ball quickly has been the Lions' trademark and has helped them to win the series. But persisting with it helped them to lose yesterday. What they needed was, in football terms, someone to put their foot on the ball and size up the options a little more coolly before acting.
Mike Catt couldn't do that and as a result the Lions ran the ball too much. Jenks would have been able to dictate the game better and try to turn the Springboks with a few kicks that would have brought far more openings.
The South Africans didn't play any different from the first two Tests. The only difference was that this time they turned pressure into points. The Lions had no surprises for them and while it is true that the Boks defended well it is also true that they've defended well in all three Tests - but yesterday they were equal to all we had to offer and only by turning them did we have a chance.
The other difference was that in the previous Tests they didn't get the points upon which to build their game. And, of course, they were playing at Ellis Park where they have proved unbeatable in recent years. When they finally get down to wondering how the hell they managed to lose this series they will reflect on several blunders like not playing their internationals in provincial matches. Another big boob was not playing the First Test at Ellis Park.
But their main folly was underestimating the Lions who I think have had a brilliant tour and have done so much for the rugby morale of all of us at home. I was delighted, personally, that Allan Bateman came on in the second half to earn his Lions Test jersey. Even though Jeremy Guscott was unlucky to break his arm, he wouldn't have denied Bateman that honour.
That's the sort of fantastic team spirit that has driven this Lions squad and they are coming home as true victors.Reuse content