WHAT a fantastic result for British and Irish rugby, and for everyone involved with the Lions, but especially for Warren Gatland and the players.
It was a tremendous record-setting result and I am just so pleased for everyone on the tour, for manager Andy Irvine, operations director Guy Richardson and all the backroom staff.
Everyone in the party will now know that a Lions’ series win is as good as it gets in British and Irish rugby and a big well done to them all.
In winning, I believe this squad have secured the future of the Lions. If they had not prevailed yesterday, the Lions would have been going to New Zealand without having won a series for 20 years.
That trip is already planned on rugby’s agenda, but many people would have begun to question whether it was worth carrying on with the Lions. With the professional game, nothing is set in tablets of stone, so I thought that it had become a matter of survival for the Lions and that’s why I am so pleased with such a decisive result.
After last week’s victory, the momentum was with the Australians yet Gatland, the other coaches and the players soaked up the pressure, especially after the row over the team selection.
Gatland’s gamble to leave out Brian O’Driscoll proved to be the right decision, and harsh as it may have been for Brian, there is no sentiment in top-level sport. Yet Brian will still be able to say that he has been part of a winning Lions’ tour, and that was his stated ambition at the start – it’s a great way for him to end his career with the Lions.
To make that incredible start to the match was just what the Lions needed. Right from the first whistle they were determined to get the platform right and play in Australia’s half, and to score a try so early was ideal. Alex Corbisiero was following up as forwards should, and he then went on to play a big part in the Lions’ scrummaging dominance. Make no mistake, the scrum was absolutely key to the victory. Before yesterday, the Wallabies had probably got the better of us up front, but it was the Lions’ day in the scrummage, and the decision to bulk up the pack, especially with Richard Hibbard, really paid off as he did his job well before having to go off with more than 30 minutes left. And shortly afterwards, when Justin Tipuric replaced Sean O’Brien, it couldn’t have fallen better for the Lions as they just got better from then on.
The early score settled the nerves, and when the Lions were 16 points to the good, you began to think “here we go” only for Australia to bring it back to a three-point gap just after half-time in typically dramatic fashion.
There were key incidents, for instance the tap tackle by Geoff Parling on Jesse Mogg and then the second-half decision by the Aussies to run a penalty instead of kick for the certain points – I heard David Campese on the radio saying “go for the try” and then changing his mind a minute later after they failed!
But no single moment was match-turning, and as the Lions stretched ahead there was never going to be any way back for Australia.
The Lions were positive throughout, and early in the second half they obviously just said to themselves “it’s all or nothing now” and went for it. In effect they started again, and I would say they were even better second time around.
As for Australia, they made mistakes early on but that was because of the Lions’ pressure. They rallied well, but just ran out of steam in the end.
George Smith’s recall just shows you that fairytales never really come true – it was an ignominious return to the international stage by his standards.
But let’s not dwell on the Australians, though I should say that the sport of rugby union has been boosted Down Under by the Lions’ tour and the Wallabies achieved a moral victory in so far as they won the Second Test to take the series into a decider in front of a huge crowd.
All the Lions have been terrific. But Leigh Halfpenny thoroughly deserved his Man of the Series award as he was exemplary and everything he did was superb.
We even finished with a Scotsman in the red jersey, and Richie Gray can now say forever that he was in a winning Lions team. All the Scottish players played their part, and it has been a good summer for Scottish rugby in general.
Our players know they need to improve if they want to be part of the next tour in four years’ time, a tour which yesterday’s victorious Lions have guaranteed will happen.