Lions rewarded for what they have brought to Australian rugby
Tour has been an outstanding success in every way
Jamie Roberts of the Lions is mobbed by team-mates Conor Murray and George North after scoring the Lions’ fourth try against Australia during the third and final Test at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images)
The Lions last won a series a few short months after rugby had become professional. Rugby has lost much of its ethos and soul in the years since money became the driving force in the game.
Young players now ask “What is in it for me? What can I get ?”
That attitude is a cancer. I tell young players that if they give to the team and give to the game, they will get rewarded.
The Lions are a living, breathing example of how professionalism can enhance rugby’s great traditions.
The Lions have given the Australian rugby community an injection of energy, excitement and much needed cash. This tour had rekindled interest in rugby across the wider community.
The Lions have sold out six of their tour matches and broken ground records for each test match venue in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. As they say in the entertainment business, that is bankable super star power.
That bankable result will wipe the debt from ARU books. If money is the root of all evil and the base of all progress, rugby will survive in Australia because cash is king.
In winning the third Test so decisively, Warren Gatland’s selection and match plan was vindicated. Equally, the relevance of the Lions concept was also vindicated by the 389,400 supporters who parted with their hard earned cash to watch the Lions play in Australia.
As tourists the Lions were great ambassadors. They were generous with the local media and exceptionally well-behaved on and off the field. They played in places like Perth and Newcastle where the gospel of rugby needs to be preached. While the media had a good old whine, the Lions, who up until this week have hardly had a day off in six weeks, good-naturedly gave of their time and played their hearts out.
The Lions have given a lot to rugby and on Saturday night they got their just rewards and won the Tom Richards Trophy.
“Rusty” Richards was a Wallaby who loved the game and the joys it brought, on and off the field. He played for Queensland, New South Wales, Biarritz, Toulouse, Gloucester and the Transvaal. All before the first World War.
He was playing in South Africa during a Lions tour there, when the injury-ravaged tourists called him in as he had played for Gloucester.
Rusty would be delighted to see the inexplicable concept of four separate countries, who compete against each other like cat and dog, then join forces and unite with a mighty intensity of purpose, simply because it is rugby.
It is mind-bogglingly unique.
It is the concept of the team being greater than the individual, that we have lost from the game since professionalism.
Last week, Sydney was a very special place. The sun shone down as 50,000 Lions fans hit the harbour city. The locals were saying they had not felt atmosphere like it since the Olympics.
Before the match, in the old Irish convict precinct of the Rocks, the good -natured humanity was dripping from restaurants and pubs. The crowds were outrageously dressed, jovial and beyond friendly. Five different nations mixed, all liberally sprinkled with good Australian beer and wine and not a cross word. It was a privilege to be part of it.
I thought the Lions would lose. So did every other rugby person I spoke to including some Lions tourists. I based that decision on what I had closely observed and the evidence of the recent matches. I don’t care that I was wrong, because the game of rugby got it very right.
I don’t like the way the Lions use scrums as a means to get a penalty but on Saturday the Lions did more than scrummage, they ran the ball. Running was missing in the match plan of the first two Tests. The Lions ran simple direct plays,that created a nightmare for the Wallaby defence.
Tommy Bowe and George North, both saw no ball in the second Test. On Saturday they were used to great effect. The back row of Dan Lydiate, Sean O’Brien and Toby Faletau carried the ball and dominated the breakdown. I could not help but feel for Brian O’Driscoll who saw no ball in his two Tests. He would have revelled in the play.
To the victor go the spoils. Warren Gatland’s tough decisions were vindicated. He has coached teams to win the Heineken Cup, a Six Nations Grand Slam and a Lions series. Not bad.
The loser pays the price. Robbie Deans looks set to be replaced. Gatland has effectively knocked Deans out of the running as a future New Zealand coaching candidate. A good night’s work.
Destiny was on the Lions’ side and the Lions not only deserved the victory, they created it.
The Lions have given deeply to Australian rugby and in giving so greatly to the game, in turn they have been richly rewarded.
Despite the doubters and the cynics, the Lions will continue with their unique rugby culture that has been passed down the generations. The win will secure the Lions’ future. The playing of the Lions series has saved Australian rugby.
Rusty Richards would be very pleased.