The highs and lows of an unforgettable tour

Stellar stuff from Shaw, bad blood by Burger, dumb decisions and vintage Vickery. Chris Hewett looks back on an amazing six weeks
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The Independent Online

Best Lions of the tour

Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips among the backs; Simon Shaw and Tom Croft among the forwards, with Matthew Rees and Adam Jones as the big improvers. In terms of consistency, the Lions were far more effective when they had the ball than when they were competing for it. Had Shaw and Jones played in the first Test, who knows what might have happened?

Best Springboks of the tour

Fourie du Preez, the scrum-half, and Heinrich Brüssow, the flanker. Everyone knew about the former, but the latter came as quite a shock – especially when he played for Free State in Bloemfontein and nearly beat the Lions single-handed.

Stellar performance of the tour

Tendai Mtawarira, the Springbok prop colloquially known as "Beast", looked pretty special during the first Test in Durban, dismantling Phil Vickery at the scrum and smashing all and sundry in the tackle. There was a similarly hot performance in the third Test from the Irish No 8 Jamie Heaslip, whose failure to land the man-of-the-match award will forever remain a mystery. But the prize goes to Simon Shaw for his career-defining effort in Pretoria. It is impossible to believe a Lions second-row forward ever played better, Willie John McBride or no Willie John McBride.

Twin comebacks of the tour

Phil Vickery and Ugo Monye were the men most publicly implicated in the hugely expensive first Test defeat at Kings Park: Vickery because he conceded early penalties at the set-piece, Monye because he fluffed two try-scoring opportunities – one of them an absolute gimme. Recalled for the third Test because of injuries to others, both men seized the moment and left Ellis Park with reputations restored, if not enhanced. Monye's 70-metre interception try was a joyous moment, as was Vickery's mangling of the "Beast" at the first scrum.

One-liners of the tour

That man Vickery again. "You always know when you've had a shit game when your mum and your missus send you a text saying they still love you," he said, reminiscing on events at Kings Park. This little gem was matched, in impact if not in emotional intelligence, by the Springbok coach Peter de Villiers. "Do we want to be a part of rugby, or do we want to go to the nearest ballet shop, get some nice tutus and get some dancing going on?" he asked his audience during a discussion on the violent transgressions of two of his forwards, Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha. "There will be no eye-gouging, no tackling, no nothing, and then you'll enjoy it."

Most touching moment of the tour

Before the wild game with the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, the Irish lock Donncha O'Callaghan, captain for the day, took the field accompanied by a skinny little eight-year-old mascot from a local township. After gathering his men together to bark a few last orders, O'Callaghan noticed his new friend standing alone and forlorn in the middle of the pitch, led him by the hand into the middle of the huddle and treated him to one last burst of effing and blinding. The lucky lad will not forget it as long as he lives.

Dumb decision of the tour (part one)

The tour disciplinary officer, Alan Hudson of Canada, suspended Schalk Burger for eight weeks after the Springbok flanker's nasty attack on the eyes of Luke Fitzgerald at Loftus Versfeld. Eight months would have been more appropriate. One of these days, some poor soul will be blinded by a gouger. At which point, rugby will cease to be worth it.

Dumb decision of the tour (part two)

The South Africans hiked their ticket prices by ridiculous multiples, thereby ensuring there would be only one sell-out: at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on second Test day. As John Feehan, the Lions' chief executive, said: "How many would turn up at Twickenham if they charged £250 a seat? This was the equivalent." In other words, it was another example of greed trumping common sense. The people responsible should run a bank.

Message of the tour

First, keep the man in the street involved by keeping ticket prices down. Second, keep pushing the four home unions for proper preparation time. Third, and most important, keep the faith. The Lions are special.