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'It's probably the most physical Test match I've ever experienced': 'Spirit of Rugby - Ep 3

By Josh Raisey

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RugbyPass is sharing unique stories from iconic British & Irish Lions tours to South Africa in proud partnership with The Famous Grouse, the Spirit of Rugby.

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In episode three of Spirit of Rugby, Jim Hamilton talks with Simon Shaw, Rob Kearney, Tom Croft, Ian McGeechan and Stephen Jones about the 2009 series loss to South Africa. The series has been remembered as one of the most brutal in living memory, as well as one that inspired Herculean performances from some tourists.

Watch Episode 3 of The Spirit of Rugby now:

Simon Shaw
“There’s a sense of drama, there’s a sense of gladiatorial combat that you don’t get anywhere else in the world.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is walk down the street in five, ten, fifteen years from now with my son or daughter at my side and someone point over and say ‘that’s Simon Shaw, he was XYZ in the Lions 2009,’ and give me a fist pump. The words came out of my mouth post match, I just wanted to be a part of it and win.

“I actually didn’t feel at any point when players were going off with arms in slings and all the rest of it, I actually didn’t think there was any way we could lose it still. You see your fellow soldiers going off and you think you might get downhearted by it but there was so much belief within that squad that I just didn’t think it necessarily affected us.

“Win, lose or draw, the first two Test matches were monumental Test matches.”

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Rob Kearney
“The South Africans, they go hard. I think they almost try to go out of their way to intimidate you a little bit.

“You go on tour and everything is building up towards the Tests. The warmup games, whilst they’re important, everything is geared towards that first Test.

“We probably weren’t prepared for maybe the level of brutality that they were bringing. It was disappointing, but at the same time we knew that we hadn’t played particularly well and that the following week we were going to be an awful lot better.

“Sublime offload [from Jones for his try in the second Test], it was incredible. I wasn’t even expecting it. I had to juggle it with one hand.

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“When you’re a kid and you go to bed at night time, you fantasise about these moments. Kicking the winning drop goal in a game or conversion or scoring a try for the Lions and I was definitely one of those kids growing up. For it to actually happen, you dream about these things your whole life.

“Simon Shaw might have something to say about that [being the best player on the pitch]. I think it was certainly up there [as one of his best games]. It has to have been. It was the biggest game of my career to date, it was the best that I’d ever played up until that. You always want to play your best games on the very big stage.

“It was awful, it really was. I’ve been playing this game for 15 years now and that ranks as number one worst loss and biggest defeat that I’ve ever had to take.

“Of course it was an opportunity missed. I think how close the second Test was, that could have swung either way. You would have loved to have seen a 1-1 going into that third Test.

“It was an incredible series for the game of rugby and the spirit of Lions rugby.”

Tom Croft
“It’s a hostile environment to be in and it was a missed opportunity but I don’t think anyone did themselves any injustice.”

Ian McGeechan
“I said to the players before the game, it’s not the jersey you put on, it’s the jersey you take off.

“It’s one of the best fullback performances I’ve ever seen in a Lions shirt,” McGeechan said of Kearney’s second Test performance.

“The Lions brings out different things in players when you get into that environment. And it does challenge you, and it changes you. Shawsy, what he put into it and what he did that afternoon was quite incredible.

“To me it’s probably the most physical Test match I think I’ve ever experienced. Unfortunately, we ended up with injuries as well. When both centres disappear, both props go in less than ten minutes in the second half.

“The players knew it wasn’t Ronan O’Gara’s fault we lost that game, it should have been well sorted before that.

“It’s still probably, in some respects, the most powerful dressing room I’ve walked back into because it was silent. You just saw the players and you knew what players give.”

Stephen Jones
“I remember the fact they got a bit of forward momentum in that game,” Jones said, looking back on the first Test.

“We missed some chances, I remember missing two off the tee- you always remember what you miss as a kicker. Six points gone there. As the game was going on, we were getting back into it and the momentum was with us.

“The best thing for me was Rob’s finish, I loved it. He still had a bit of work to do.

“To lose a game in the last minute like that and the manner, that was a bitter pill to swallow.

“Going back in the changing rooms after being in your own little world for five minutes, you want to then interact and talk to your teammates and discuss the game, debrief the game and I remember the changing room was pretty big, purely because so many guys had gone to hospital either to get operated on or checked on.”

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'It's probably the most physical Test match I've ever experienced': 'Spirit of Rugby - Ep 3

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