Forget the criticism, pride should be overwhelming feeling for Lions - Andy Goode
The media is full of criticism of Warren Gatland and question marks over the Lions’ future but this completely unique tour shouldn’t inform decision making for 2025 and beyond.
Of course, there will be regrets but sport at that elite level is decided by the finest of margins and the overwhelming feeling in the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat should be one of pride that this group of players and staff managed to get through the tour.
A couple of months away from your families and stuck in a tight bubble, albeit with a golf course to walk around in the later stages of the tour, is a real sacrifice even if a lot of fans will suggest that is over the top.
Josh Adams watching the birth of his baby on Zoom is a prime example of what players have missed but there will have been lots of others and for anyone thinking it’s been easy, just think back to what it was like for us all not having the freedom to go to the pub or shop or even just for a trip out of the house (or hotel in their case) anywhere.
Liam Williams will have regrets about not putting Adams in for a simple try in the corner and for missing the tackle on Cheslin Kolbe for his try, even if the best player in the world has done that to countless other players, but he shouldn’t be singled out.
Maro Itoje didn’t have to sack the maul when he did as well, Courtney Lawes could’ve rolled away for the penalty he gave away and the front row could have been more solid in the scrum at the very end. That’s sport and mistakes happen.
There were missed opportunities and there isn’t a doubt in my mind the Lions should have taken the three points on offer several times but that’s the way I played the game.
It’s a hell of a risk to keep turning shots at goal down against a team as good defensively as South Africa, though, and I do think that was an error from the Lions leadership group.
They did the same thing in the first Test and part of it will have been a directive from the management but there has to be a feeling among the players and sometimes that is to go for the corner, just not every single time.
They did end up going for posts eventually but they had spurned around five kickable chances before that and handed the Springboks the psychological advantage by not getting over the line apart from Ken Owens’ try midway through the first half.
Alun Wyn Jones and co are taking flak for that from a lot of people but it’s a shared responsibility and Neil Jenkins is the man with the tee so the coaches should be able to get it onto the pitch quickly if they want that as well.
It’s pointless talking about what would have happened if Finn Russell had started all three Tests because he had an achilles injury but it was great to see him come on early and look so fluent.
I thought the Lions actually played the better rugby and it was the best they looked in attack across all three Tests but the ball in play time was actually much lower than the opening two Tests at just 26 minutes 22 seconds.
There are lots of reasons for that but it’s over 10 minutes less than the average Six Nations game so things could have been different if the Lions had been able to stretch the Springboks more and give Russell a tiring defence to attack.
One thing that shouldn’t be a regret is a lack of preparation time though. Gatland has mentioned that in recent days but the head coach in 2025 will be extremely lucky to have the majority of his players together for a period of eight weeks.
More competitive warm-up games would’ve been a benefit but that couldn’t be helped and I think we’re more likely to see a smaller squad taken and just three warm-up games in Australia.
And, then there has been the sideshow with Gatland and Rassie Erasmus, the refereeing discussions, the TMO, the videos. It may have left a sour taste for some but it was a good job we had something to talk about off the field at times when the quality of rugby wasn’t always the best.
I think the regrets and errors are heightened because of the circumstances around the tour and the players and staff will be feeling that massively. A victory would have made all the sacrifice worthwhile, whereas a defeat will leave individuals questioning a lot of things.
Hopefully that feeling will ease for them in the weeks and months to come but from the outside, we should all respect the monumental shift they put in for the Lions cause rather than questioning whether the concept still has a place in the game.
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