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'Just dreadful' - The one overriding consensus around the Lions tour

By Ian Cameron
Owen Farrell /PA

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If there is one note that former players, spectators and pundits seem to be finding some consensus on in the aftermath of the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa, it’s that the rugby on display has been dire.


In the grand tradition of Lions’ tours past there was intrigue, cattiness, vitriol, and off-field dramas aplenty – but what unfolded on the field was not so much spectacle as debacle.

The series was a ‘one for the purists’ – which, of course, is code in rugby union for absolute crap. It may be the only thing people are agreeing on.

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Warren Gatland speaks about what must change on B&I Lions tour and what is in his future
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Warren Gatland speaks about what must change on B&I Lions tour and what is in his future

While those defending the series might claim it was a compelling but ugly drama, the emphasis on kick to contest tactics left most fans bemoaning a Lions tour that ultimately failed to deliver on anything that might be described as an attractive brand of rugby.

Rugby’s talking heads have duly lined up to vent.

Former World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward enjoyed the strategic battle but not the rugby on show: “Although the coach in me enjoyed the chess match element of this series there was very little rugby to savour — a poor highlights reel.”

Writing in his RugbyPass column, former Lions lock Ben Kay said the mediocre rugby didn’t have the advantage of the normal buzz around a Lions’ tour. “The issue they’ve had with this tour is the rugby wasn’t up to much and we had no crowds to cover that up. The tour that saved the concept was the 1997 tour but why did we love it? It was because of the drama and the fans. If you’d put 55,000 in that Cape Town Stadium on three consecutive weekends with the cameras picking up the atmosphere, the nerves, the elation and the heartbreak, you would have been prepared to forget some of the rugby. This tour hasn’t enhanced the Lions brand, but it hasn’t diminished it. In the current circumstances, credit must go to them for getting it over the line.


Welsh legend Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Davies called for rules changes in light of a series blighted by kicking and negative play. “As a spectacle, it was just dreadful. The general supporter who follows the Six Nations and the Lions, will they sit down and watch that kicking, kicking, kicking?

“I don’t know if they will. And will kids want to take up the game if you are not going to see the ball on the wing or at outside centre?”

Retired international referee Alain Rolland wasn’t shy about slamming what was on offer in his Daily Mail column: “This whole series — both on and off the field — has been a poor advertisement for the game of rugby. Something that promised so much, delivered so little. Across the three games, it was hard to watch at times.

“It was not enjoyable to watch. If you were put on this planet having never seen rugby before and watched this series, you would not be rushing out to play the game. Our game deserves more.”


Writing in The Scotsman, Scotland hooker Fraser Brown wrote: “What we’ve witnessed over the last three weekends, in my opinion, was some way short of our best version of rugby. At times on Saturday the Lions showed what they were capable of and what could have been if they had chosen to play with pace and tempo from the first Test but, instead, they tried to out-Boks the Boks. It’s a tactic that has rarely, if ever worked.”

Lions tour
Fraser Brown /Getty

The former Scotland and Leinster head coach noted: “There will be little honour for whoever wins. The world has viewed this series as a regrettable and grubby event, in which both the Lions and the Springboks have done rugby a grave disservice.”

The All Blacks head coach said the rugby had put him to sleep: “I watched it between 10pm and 1am last night, it put me to sleep,” Foster mused. “The Lions series, the one we had here, the one over there, it’s become very tight, almost risk-free type of series, aren’t they? Teams are almost afraid to play, they are just relying on a low-risk strategy.

Ian Foster Lions tour
Photo credit: © Andrew Cornaga /

“So we are seeing two teams who desperately want to win a big series playing low-risk, highly-effective rugby. Both of them are good at the close contact stuff, the close quarter fighting, the kick and chase, and the pressure game. Two teams playing a similar style, it’s a bit of a slugfest.”

The outspoken former Bok boss said even he felt the South Africa’s style of play left him disinterested. “Firstly, it’s very boring. Does it give you results? Definitely, but it’s very, very boring. We suffocate people with our bulk and then we base our whole game-plan around defending, defending, defending. Instead of creating, creating, creating.”


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