Success is now history

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The Independent Online
When immortality beckoned, the British Lions found themselves a tackle or two short of what was required and they were rarely able to summon the incisive attacking edge that brought the Springboks their face- saving win. But the series went to the Lions, and deservedly so.

After Matt Dawson's try there was every possibility of the Lions staging a similar thrilling finish to that which earned them victory in Cape Town, and so become the first team in a century to achieve a Test whitewash on South African soil.

However, let us put the series win in its true perspective. Had the Lions not been so undermined with injuries to key players at vital moments who knows what might have been achieved.

The loss of their influential scrum-half Robert Howley so early on was a terrible body blow. So too were the enforced departures of Ieuan Evans and Scott Quinnell; the three of them would surely have played their part in all three Tests. So might Doddie Weir. And along the way the first- choice Test hooker Keith Wood fell victim to the injury curse as did Richard Hill, Paul Grayson, Kyran Bracken, Jason Leonard and the heavily concussed Will Greenwood.

What a difference Gregor Townsend might have made yesterday with so much good quality ball and plenty of broken play in which to move it.

The casualty list grew longer yesterday with Jeremy Guscott sustaining a broken arm and Tony Underwood departing with a thigh-muscle injury. Those left on the field remained defiant to the last, however. And what a part some of them played.

To observe Neil Jenkins before he steps on a rugby field is to wonder why he has any more business dabbling in international sport than Tony Banks. But the shy, freckle-faced Welshman's goal-kicking reached new levels of excellence on this tour as he kept the Lions in touch throughout all three Tests.

At least Jenkins has the benefit of more than 40 international appearances under his belt. Tom Smith has no such experience to call on. The tenderfoot Lions loose-head prop, who only came into the Scotland front-row this year, has surprised many with his technique and courage.

Never far behind Smith and always where the grapeshot was most dense was, for many, the number one foot soldier in the party, Major Rob Wainwright, the only non-Englishman to captain these Lions throughout the tour.

Uncomplaining, always competitive, Wainwright deserved his Test cap and marked it with a wholehearted display of unflinching defence. Together, Smith and Wainwright have done Watsonians and Scotland proud. They were not alone.

Since England won there so unexpectedly 25 years ago, Ellis Park has been virtually impregnable. In the Springboks' spiritual home, a monument to Afrikaaner supremacy, only the 1992 All Blacks, by a single score, and France a year later, by a solitary point, have won there.

Before yesterday, the Lions had a proud record in Johannesburg with two wins, three draws and only two defeats. To make the most meaningful of comparisons this means they have done considerably better than New Zealand, who have won only twice at the stadium since it was opened in 1928, and been beaten there six times. So let us applaud these Lions.