Ian McGeechan must have been sorely tempted to let fly at some of the more blood-curdling tackles he witnessed from the Southern Kings yesterday as his British and Irish Lions chiselled out a sixth victory in as many matches on their tour of South Africa. But in Test week of all weeks, the head coach saw little point in creating a diplomatic incident over tactics used by a team no Lions party may ever face again.
"I'm really proud of the discipline we showed and that we had our just reward on the scoreboard," he said, choosing his words with great care after the 20-8 win. "I thought we were very professional, with the players responding well to each other. You can't underestimate the strength of will something like that takes.
"Our opponents clearly wanted to make a game of it, it was full on and we had to control things." Then he added, darkly: "We kept our heads, especially in the second half, and we kept doing damage where it hurt the Southern Kings the most, which was in rugby terms."
McGeechan's captain for the day, the Irish lock Donncha O'Callaghan, admitted that some of the more nakedly aggressive incidents tested the tourists' powers of forbearance, while his countryman Ronan O'Gara expressed the view that there were more cheap shots in the course of these 80 minutes than in all five previous fixtures put together. "With an awful lot of stuff going on off the ball, I thought the guys showed a lot of composure in rising above it," commented O'Callaghan, who is not obviously one of life's natural cheek-turners.
There was little doubt that the Lions camp were unhappy about the acid flavour of the contest and in their quiet moments, the coaching team will ask themselves how so many brutal tackles were allowed to go unpunished. But McGeechan declined to criticise the referee, Nigel Owens of Wales, in public. "If there's anything that needs saying, we'll say it in private," he remarked.
Predictably, there was precious little in the way of remorse shown by the home camp. "Yes, one or two late tackles occurred," agreed the Southern Kings' coach Alan Solomons, who has spent time in the British Isles with Ulster and Northampton. "But there were also a few high hits from the Lions, who are hardly angels. They have made it very clear that they are looking for physical confrontation in South Africa and we didn't want to disappoint them in any way. We were certainly determined not to give them an easy ride and for a side that came together only six days ago and played 20 minutes of that match with 14 men, we gave them a hell of a contest."
The injured Lions, the prop Euan Murray and the outside-half James Hook, will be assessed over the next 24 hours. Murray's injured right ankle was X-rayed after the game, with initial reports suggesting there was no fracture. Hook, who disappeared into La-La land after taking a heavy hit on the head, may be suffering from concussion, but the extent of his problem was not identified before the Lions departed for Durban last night.
If Murray is ruled out of this Saturday's meeting with the Springboks at King's Park, the Welsh tight-head prop Adam Jones, who replaced him yesterday and turned in a powerful scrummaging performance, could find a way on to the bench. McGeechan will name his team tomorrow.Reuse content