Leaving aside the continuing argument over the Schalk Burger gouging affair – Graham Rowntree, the British and Irish Lions scrum technician, could be heard tearing into both the South African flanker and his head coach, Peter de Villiers, for their roles in the controversy – and a pathetic little difference of opinion over whether or not the tourists have congratulated the home side on securing a series victory in Pretoria last weekend, there is the small matter of a Test match at Ellis Park to consider. Thankfully, the Lions captain Paul O'Connell started considering it yesterday.
"It won't be a case of everything being on the line in the way it was at Loftus Versfeld, when the series was still alive," the Irish lock admitted, still struggling with the disappointment of being two down with one to play, "but I think the guys are enthusiastic about trying to replicate the intensity they summoned in Pretoria. The way this tour has been managed, and the way we've managed ourselves, means we won't be taking this match lightly.
"We'll steer clear of the Burger stuff. It was a bad incident, there for all to see, but it's been dealt with, he won't be on the pitch, it's an irrelevance. We'll be more concerned that the last two Tests were not a true reflection of us as a team. I'm proud of the way we've performed, but we came here to win, not put in big performances and lose. The real enjoyment in rugby comes from winning and we want to experience at least something of that."
O'Connell offered words of gratitude to his fellow Irishman, the centre Brian O'Driscoll, who flew home yesterday suffering from a heavy concussion after playing some spectacular rugby for the Lions. "When your best attacking player is also your best, most honest defender – when someone as good as him is willing to dig as deep as us mules in the front five of the pack – it's a galvanising thing," he said.
He also spoke of Ronan O'Gara, his Munster colleague, who cost the Lions the draw they deserved in Pretoria by conceding the decisive penalty with an ill-timed aerial challenge in the final seconds. "Sure, Ronan was very low," the captain admitted. "But his mental toughness is his biggest strength."
Meanwhile, the International Rugby Board, aghast at the fall-out from the Burger incident and seemingly embarrassed by the leniency of the eight-week suspension imposed on him, will take a number of steps to strengthen its stance against the deadliest of all rugby sins. The board will review the existing sanction structure and move to extend the right of appeal against unsatisfactory punishments.Reuse content