BOD plays like God but tour hell for O'Gara

Some Lions roared, others were toothless; most can hold their heads up with pride
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Lions tour is over, and the 2-1 Test series defeat in South Africa made it a woeful southern hemisphere hat-trick after Australia (Lions beaten 2-1) in 2001 and New Zealand (3-0) in 2005. Among the 37 players selected for a trip of 10 matches, plus the eight who joined the party due to injury or suspension, there were the good, the bad and – in honour of the tourists' favourite DVD series – The Inbetweeners.

The good

Full-back Lee Byrne was on form with his perpendicular running angles until a foot injury cut him down in the First Test. Rob Kearney took over with a brave and safe display in the Second Test, plus a well-taken try. Luke Fitzgerald started the Second Test, which must have seemed better than a poke in the eye until he actually got one.

Jamie Roberts had a world-class skill-set of hard running and subtle offloads. It helped having fellow centre Brian O'Driscoll outside him. While BOD's body lasted, the Lions were thankful for their defensive master, most inventive attacker and one of the all-time great spotters of the main chance. Wales glowed happily as they cornered the half-back market. Stephen Jones kicked 20 points in the Second Test and, although scrum-half Mike Phillips was no Fourie du Preez, he kept his combustible side in check.

In the forwards, Alun-Wyn Jones played his way into the First Test team, then the coaches decided his combo with Paul O'Connell didn't work. O'Connell? He didn't steal endless amounts of Bok line-out, or skip daintily through countless midfields, or make Churchillian speeches for the benefit of TV trailers. But the captain got the best from his team and it was not his fault if he shouldn't have been in it. Simon Shaw proved that if you're good enough, you're young enough. Adam Jones propped the Lions up when substituting Phil Vickery in the First Test, then had his shoulder mangled by Bakkies Botha in the Second.

The bad

Among a promising set of backs, Leigh Halfpenny arrived late and went home early. By contrast, Shane Williams played in eight matches, mostly spent chasing the ball. Riki Flutey was handicapped by a knee injury until he made the Third Test side. Gordon D'Arcy was called up in week two but never looked like shifting Roberts or O'Driscoll as a Test starter. Scrum-half Mike Blair came in when Tomas O'Leary broke an ankle before departure, but a foot ligament injury hampered the Scot.

No 8 Andy Powell had a big heart and was a fun tourist but that was it. Two runaway tries by flanker Stephen Ferris hinted at greatness but injury did for him too. Vickery worked his way into the First Test, then along came Tendai Mtawarira who, apparently, has got some sort of bestial nickname. Hooker Ross Ford made few waves as the injured Jerry Flannery's replacement, while Euan Murray went from being the prop the Boks feared to a fringe Test candidate before an ankle injury knocked him out anyway.

The inbetweeners

Ugo Monye had two Test starts, which is two more than most. Pundits sang the praises of Tommy Bowe right up to the First Test but he suffered by comparison with Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen. Utility back Keith Earls dashed and darted and, like Halfpenny, is a future Test Lion. It's always been either triumph or disaster with Ronan O'Gara, and this tour was no different, with a last 10 minutes from hell in the crucial Second Test. James Hook showed flashes of something different but the coaches didn't trust him. And it's just a hunch but Harry Ellis should feature prominently in the post-tour video: the scrum-half had a camera pointing at him on the Test bench for hundreds of minutes.

In the back row, we yearned for Jamie Heaslip to do a Pierre Spies and scorch the earth. Tom Croft made a mockery of his initial omission but did he do enough in defence? David Wallace started with the No 7 Test jersey ahead of Martyn Williams, who carried a knock. Joe Worsley got a cap, while Donncha O'Callaghan had vitality in spades but the Tests didn't require someone to put a whoopee cushion under Bakkies Botha.

Elsewhere in the front five, Nathan Hines was close to a Test cap until a ban for a dangerous tackle. Andrew Sheridan was edged out by Gethin Jenkins, so well done to the Welshman. Guided missiles at the line-out and sassy passing augured well for Lee Mears until the Mtawarira tide washed him away in the First Test. Up stepped Matthew Rees, who was not so good at the line-out but better in the scrum. The results were the same.

The rest

John Hayes replaced Murray for the final two weeks and made the Third Test bench. Tim Payne was summoned even later as cover for Sheridan. Flannery, O'Leary and Tom Shanklin were injured before the squad left home, while Alan Quinlan missed out when suspended for gouging. Most bizarrely, Ryan Jones arrived from Wales's tour of North America to replace Ferris, only to be ruled out with concussion three days and no matches later.