The Lee Byrne Column: My dreams of being a hero were cut in half

Injury brings my First Test to premature end but we are all far from finished
Click to follow
The Independent Online

That wasn't the way I'd dreamt the First Lions Test would go. Something like me scoring the winning try would have been nearer the mark. Instead I didn't make it to the end of the first half, and with no official dinner or function afterwards we were back at our hotel not much more than an hour after the match to think about what had gone wrong and about why we believe it can definitely go right next week.

My particular problem was that the sole of my left foot flared up again. I had to interrupt the warm-up as I needed to get it taped but it was after we kicked off that it got sore and it tightened more and more as the first half went on, until there was no sense carrying on. I think it will be fine with a couple of days' rest as it wasn't the sharp pain I experienced when I had to come off against Ireland in March, but the effect was the same. Game over for me, which was a massive disappointment on a big day.

The same goes for the result overall. We had much better ball in the second half, and more of it, and if we can play like that for the full 80 minutes we know we can win the next Test and still take the series. We can come back strongly from this, and reward the thousands of supporters we had in Durban yesterday and who will be following us to Pretoria and Johannesburg, I'm sure.

But the Springboks hurt us in the first quarter, no doubt about it. They started better than we expected, with them not having played for a while, although no one can ever predict with 100 per cent confidence how that will go. Our defence was a little sloppy, we were guilty of giving too many penalties away and it all mounted up. Ugo Monye and I had to really scramble to keep JP Pietersen out at an early stage. The bounce can be unbelievable on the hard grounds out here, you never know which way that will go, either.

The ground aggravated my foot too, though I did my best by making a couple of runs from deep and that was always part of the game plan, to have a bit of a go at the Springboks. We couldn't argue with the contributions made by Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll. He's a big lad, Jamie, so hard to stop, he was like a battering ram and he can be really proud of his display.

He and Brian set up two tries for Tom Croft and they were good tries too. That's part of the disappointment, as it proved we can open the Boks up. The boys sorted out the scrums and line-outs, the backs looked sharp and we felt we could have won. During the tour I've roomed with Brian as well as Ronan O'Gara and Gordon D'Arcy – all the Irishmen, it seems – and I know they and the rest of the players will have only one thing on their minds which is squaring the series next Saturday.

We stuck to our plan and demonstrated our fitness and we always believed that if we did that, the South Africans would fold. They were out on their feet by the end, but they were the winners. I swapped my jersey with Frans Steyn and there was respect between the teams. The Springboks know now that we're not here to be bullied. The Lions are not beaten yet.

Comments