A calendar year rather than a season but either way a good year for Irish rugby. The Six Nations (and the Grand Slam), the scalp of the World & Tri-Nation Champions and the Churchill Cup.
In real terms that means we finished last season with only one loss (New Zealand) and as the top ranked Northern Hemisphere team. We’re currently just below France (by thousands of a point) so if the Kiwis win we move back up to be the top ranked Northern Hemisphere side, and depending what happens in Cardiff we could finish the day as high as third.
Now by my reckoning there’s just one more thing to win this year.
1st Test – Kings Park, Durban: South Africa 26 – 21 Lions
2nd Test – Loftus Verdus, Pretoria: South Africa 28 – 25 Lions
3rd Test – Ellis Park, Johannesburg: South Africa 9 – 28 Lions
Heartbreaking as it was to lose the series after the second test it’s been an amazing tour. As Geech said of the six halves played we had the best of four of them but ultimately the team that was most clinical on the day won the match. I think ‘deserve’ is an overused word when it comes to sport, as an Ireland fan I’ve had more than my fair share of moments when I felt we deserved to win but I think Paul O’Connell got it right:
“The team that wins is the better team,” he said. “You do what you have to do to win.
“The trophy goes to the team that wins. Ian McGeechan said before the game you earn respect by winning.
“Sure, people have been patting us on the backs for our performances but for some guys here it was the first win on the southern hemisphere, and that’s important.”
And you’d have to say however well we played in the first two tests, ultimately South Africa showed why they were World Champions and they took their chances when they got them.
I think the talk about whether or not the Lion is an outdated concept and whether or not they can really compete was convincingly trashed this tour – even if we hadn’t won the third test I think running the World Champions to within 5 points and then 3 points with a team that’s only been playing together for 5 weeks shows that the Lions are a competitive team and though we’re obviously in it to win it those two games were a far cry from the ‘blackwash‘ of four years ago, this was a team producing some truly exceptional rugby.
For me the standout players of the tour for the Lions were Jamie Roberts, Drico, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Jamie Heaslip and Mike Phillips. I also thought Shaw, Wallace, M Williams, Jones and Fitzgerald all had good tours. I would have loved to have seen Stephen Ferris take on the Boks, hopefully he’ll only improve between now and 2013.
For the Boks obviously Smit and du Preez were great and i’ve been a fan of both Spies and Francois Steyn for a while but the player I’m most looking forward to seeing in the Tri-nations is probably Heinrich Brüssow, and with Burger out it looks like he’ll be getting a chance to lay claim to the 6 jersey.
I also like how in this photo it looks quite a lot like POC is about to kiss Geech.
Even though in the last tour the mid-week games (Maori aside) were won, generally comfortably, I definitely feel like this is indicative of a close series with the Boks (if only because this side might actually have a bearing on the Test side).
Whilst I’ll obviously want to laud the Irish performance from what I read and saw the Welsh boys deserve a fair portion of the plaudits.
Either way this tour definitely has a good feel about it – especially as we now have the prospect of an Irish 10-15 on the cards…
I don’t want to say too much because I always get a bit paranoid about jinxing our chances but I’m definitely pretty excited (where by pretty excited I mean super-psyched) about the Six Nations this year.
I think the schedule is good for us and although I don’t agree with leaving out Eoin Reddan I think the rest of the team for our opener is the right one and without a doubt BOD should be our captain.
Also interested to see how Bergamasco gets on at scrum half…