There is getting it wrong and there is getting it very wrong, and yes, safe to say, my fears and predictions for the last Lions Test were firmly in the latter. It is scant relief to know that I was far from alone, and not an excuse either, but it is a lesson in passing judgements without talking to any of the guys on the ground.
What do I mean by that? I did not talk to any of the players, or coaches, and voiced my concern that the side we had picked could only play a very limited style. It was built around power and directness, with scant room for subtlety or guile (so I thought). But emotion plays a huge part in sport, as does focus, confidence and trust and within the first few minutes of the Third Test, you could see a very different emotion within the Lions team. Plenty of back slapping, congratulations, encouragement, a huge amount of intensity, even anger.
Gatland had picked players he knew, and trusted, given them a game plan and roles that they had confidence in, and the rest we watched unravel before us. My concerns about limitations were obliterated by the ferocity in the Lions' play, and the fact that almost all the players played by far their best games, and some way beyond prior performances. I would have gone with Tipuric at 7 and O'Driscoll at 13 believing that both players offered the ability to create space through their footballing ability. But O'Brien was just outstanding for sixty minutes, making a huge impact on the game and the final result and Jonathan Davies produced some great touches.
So Gatland got it so very right and if I had taken the time to ask a few players, coaches, then I am sure they would have told me that the feeling, the rage in the Lions camp meant that something special was brewing. I didn't, and I got it very wrong.
It is fair to say that as a result I received some passionate abuse on Twitter. No parents was a common theme, arrogant and English (and you would never put those two together would you?!) was another! But what I found strange was that 99% of the abuse came from Welsh people? Why no Irish, Scots or even English? I had doubted the Lions team, the Lions coach, not the Welsh? And at no time had I ever said there were too many Welsh in the team, in fact had been quite vocal about the legitimacy of it. I also had some great comments from other Welsh rugby fans, so am not generalising here, as I do feel that the vast majority of genuine Welsh fans were far more intent in celebrating the success, along with the Irish, Scots and English rather than seeking nationalistic revenge for perceived slights on 'their' coach.
The beauty of the Lions' success is that it comes against the backdrop of such a huge disadvantage. Yes, you are picking the best of four nations, but at the same time you are giving yourself the challenge of blending a team out of those individuals, to take on one of the three strongest teams in world rugby. And you only have a matter of weeks and games in which to do it! You have a coaching team, that has similar issues too and yet under the severest of pressure have to sing from and believe in the same hymn sheet.
This Lions squad were seemingly on the verge of brave failure, in the same vein as the 2001, 2005 and 2009 Lions. The pendulum had swung Australia's way, so we thought (or I did), after the Second Test result. The pressure on any Lions tour is immense, let alone one that follows on from three consecutive defeats. And against this back drop Gatland picked his Third test team.
The furore in some areas of the media was amazing, and although I disagreed with his dropping of O'Driscoll, I would like to say in my defence, I never ventured down the nationalistic lines and certainly did not call into question his knowledge of love of the Lions history etc. I called his selection brave, and that is an understatement.
But out on the pitch, we witnessed and outstanding performance from Corbisiero, the best we have seen of Sexton, inspiring leadership from Alun Wyn-Jones and the ever brilliant Leigh Halfpenny. We witnessed the blend of players that make the Lions so captivating when it works.
So could Wales have done this on their own? I honestly don't know. Jenkins could have filled in for Corbisiero, Evans for Parling, Warburton for O'Brien etc etc, but it is more than just talent that wins games, it is emotion, character and mental strength and did those guys I have mentioned just bring something different to the party, did they evoke a different feeling in the other players? We mere mortals on the outside do not know, but we can suspect.
But we witnessed success against the backdrop that I have already mentioned, and that makes it even sweeter. The bickering and abuse from some so called 'fans', rather than the joy and celebration of something truly special, is just sad.
I am delighted that my fears were wrong; I am delighted that Gatland and his coaching team and players got it so right. I am also in awe of his medical team, who got the likes of Bowe and Roberts back on the pitch so quickly, sadly they will not get the credit that they deserve, but when we think of it, how crucial their role was cannot be exaggerated. They deserve all the plaudits that they will hopefully receive, and Gatland can smile quietly at shutting up certain smug parentless people!
As long as he doesn't keep doing come Six Nations time...
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