Kurtley left kicking himself as Sky’s pride in the Lions goes nuts
Sky look like they want to employ every former rugby international ever
Australia’s Kurtley Beale slips as he takes a penalty that would have won his team the match while Lions players look on. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
No more than the viewers, down under and up above, Miles Harrison could hardly breathe, the tension of it all very nearly rendering Stuart Barnes inaudible too, apart from the heavy breathing. This was, you sensed, very nearly too much for the pair.
For 80 minutes they’d pummelled the living daylights out of each other – Australia and the Irish (and British) Lions, that is, not Miles and Stuart. (Well, it had looked that way to the uninitiated, but Scott Quinnell actually thought it was all a bit mild-mannered).
Any way, here we were, after all that, one kick to decide the whole shebang.
“A moment of redemption,” Miles wondered aloud as Kurtley Beale prepared himself, looking for all the world like a man who’d just seen a ghost walk by. “The Test match comes down to this,” said Miles, as if Kurtley wasn’t feeling enough pressure.
Not long before: “Those posts will be narrowing . . . he hasn’t missed yet . . . will he be a hero again,” Miles had asked, and with that Kurtley sent his kick in to the middle of next week. But, redemption time?
Silence. “Well?” asked those positioned behind their couches.
Miles: “OoooOOOOoooh, he’s slipped!”
You know, it’s always a good way to test if you have a sliver of humanity to monitor your own reaction to a moment like the one endured by Kurtley in the dying seconds.
When it happened to John Terry in the 2008 Champions League final it was, of course, a glorious thing, but Kurtley is no Terry so if you raised the roof in celebration you’re a heartless brute.
“OoooOOOoooooh,” said Barnes, echoing his colleague, quite literally, and you feared he’d do a Kool and the Gang and start warbling “Celebrate good times, come on!”
Mercifully enough, he didn’t.
Needless to say, by then Sky had whipped us in to the customary pre-big-occasion frenzy, even though it was only a Lions match, their introduction to their coverage featuring rugby greats, among them Willie John McBride, JPR Williams and JPR Williams’ sideburns, and lines like “this is the moment”, which left you inhaling deeply lest Colm ‘CT’ Wilkinson appear on the screen clutching his lion-hearted chest.
Martin Johnson made an appearance too, which might have led some to inflate their kangaroos, and he was soon followed by Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince David Beckham, Rory McIlroy, Ian Botham, Justin Rose and Robbie Keane, amongst others, all sending their best wishes to the Lions.
Inspirational words of support they offered too, not least Rory: “Kick the Ozzies’ arses.”
And then a vast collection of pumped up Sky pundits greeted us in Brisbane, captained by presenter Alex Payne, Sky doing their best to ensure no former rugby international be left unemployed, among them Ian ‘Sir’ McGeechan, Paul Wallace and Will Greenwood, the latter so feverishly excited he started punching the palm of his hand.
“There’s electricity within the Lions’ changing room,” he declared, which some of us, to be honest, took for granted, “some are talking, the rest just making eye contact saying: ‘I. Am. With. You.’”
“Ah jaysus Will, relax the head,” Ian and Paul’s exchanged glances appeared to be saying, but Alex nodded, nostrils flaring, having already told us we were in for an “emotional rollercoaster” – “hold on tight,” he advised, noting that Paul, Ian and Will were “strapped in for the ride”. Will sucked in the Brisbane air, Ian and Paul appeared to sigh outwards.
Down on the pitch, Quinnell found none other than Jason Robinson to chat with, the latter donning a Lions shirt despite retiring in 2005. “We are standing shoulder to shoulder once again,” said Quinnell, which wasn’t entirely true, Jason barely reaching his belly button.
But his beloved Lions had the stomach for it, as it proved.