Some quick fire thoughts on the game itself.
Fantastic, heart warming showing by the Irish players, continuing a remarkable season for Irish rugby. O’Driscoll was outstanding, Bowe ran some good angles and O’Connell led from the front along with Wallace and Heaslip. Rob Kearney, who could possibly have started, came on as a replacement and looked very strong under the high ball. Irish rugby has come along in light years in the last decade, the best Club sides in Europe (Leinster and Munster) and the best International side in Europe, standing as Six Nations Champions. Heady times indeed.
Shocking display by the referee. How so? Easy, in the final fifteen minutes, as the Lions stormed back in fine style, the Springboks were guilty of several blatant attempts to spoil the ball illegally, penalty after penalty came, and no yellow card. The Sky Sports commentary team were incredulous that the referee didn’t put his hand in his pocket and produce the yellow. In the first half the Lions were also stymied, this time by the referee whistling them at an inordinate rate for several very dubious penalties. To the credit of everyone in the Lions camp, no one has blamed anyone but themselves. To the viewer, the final fifteen minutes produced a disgraceful display of ‘refereeing’. Rugby needs to look at its rules on how yellow cards are given, at the moment it is too heavily a seemingly arbitrary decision. Not good enough for such a high profile encounter.
Not to mention how the referee and linemen completely ignored the South African’s attempted bullying tactics. Thankfully the Lions, led by O’Driscoll, stood up to the ugly South African tactics. This from O’Driscoll’s piece in the Guardian (admirable, blunt honesty here);
‘’Du Plessis pulled his right fist back and said he was going to knock me out. I told him to go ahead. He wanted me to flinch and show weakness, but he had no chance. Suddenly he found himself in a position where, if he went ahead with his threat, he would be in trouble with the officials. He had to pull away.’’
Finally, I have been beating this dead horse all week (dead, as the Lions management team are absolutely glued to playing Jones, who seems to be a teachers pet of sorts) but if dead-eye accurate kicking Ronan O’Gara had played that game, the Lions won. Jones, the incumbent, is in the team on the basis that he tackles more. Your out half is there mainly as an offensive force! Besides, two of the greatest defensive centers in the world, O’Driscoll and Roberts, would protect O’Gara. Jones was largely anonymous however his place kicking was atrocious, O’Gara would have nailed most if not all of those kicks, meaning the Lions would have won even without any of the three potential tries they almost scored. Fact!