First up sorry for the silence but I’ve been away on a training course and apart from catching up on all the rugby of the past ten days in the limited time available to me, there was precious little for sitting down and writing. As a result it’s a bit of a whip round this week. In this piece we look at the continuing ups and down of a Lions tour that for the most part seems to be defying logic and somehow manages to keep going. We’ll also be following this up with another piece looking at all the non-Lions action that took place this past weekend.
Despite some tragic setbacks at the outset and continuing doubts as to whether the Series will be allowed to play to its conclusion – the Lions soldier on in adversity
If you were like us there was a deathly silence in your TV room as you watched a genuine Lions legend walk off the pitch after only seven minutes of a Lions tour that was likely to further cement his place in the history books as perhaps the greatest Lions Captain of all time. After that there was probably anguish, depression, rage, despair – and a recourse to the nearest libation available to numb the shock. How could the Lions go on without their Mufasa, their Aslan?
Well it seems they can, and despite the setback it has hardened the resolve of the 37 men donning the red jersey to do the great man proud and make this Tour one that will stick in our memories as being done in his honor. He may not be there in person but in spirit he is clearly looming large over the current squad, and rumor has it that he may be out to join the coaching team for the actual three Tests against the Springboks, as well as an even more surreal fantasy of him actually returning to the pitch for those matches.
In his absence, Gatland raised everyone’s eyebrows by appointing Ireland’s Conor Murray as Captain in Jones’ absence. This is a player who has only captained his own club side Munster once, but never his country, let alone wear a Lions armband. However, once our brows unfurled and we stopped our head scratching, the decision, even if it is a bit out in left field does make sense. He’s the perfect link between the backs and the forwards and understands the trials and tribulations of both, he’s perhaps one of the most popular guys in the squad and most important of all has two Lions tours under his belt, making this his third. In short he’s got the street cred.
As for the tour itself. The current COVID complications have once more thrown the whole thing into crisis, with the Springboks now reeling from the virus and South Africa itself in crisis as the third wave sinks its ugly teeth into the country, still playing catchup from the first two waves. Questions linger around whether or not it is appropriate in such times to even be playing rugby in the first place when your host country has rather more pressing problems. Can the Springboks emerge fit, healthy and more importantly match ready in the space of just over two weeks before the first Test? Their first Test since the World Cup against Georgia seemed to indicate that they were fairly capable of blowing off the cobwebs quickly, but a squad of some of the combined Northern Hemisphere’s finest is a slightly different proposition.
In short, while Gatland’s unbounded optimism around the tour’s ultimate success may seem to some to lacking any grounding in reality or even empathy with what his hosts are going through, we have to grudgingly admire it. The Tour has become in many ways a direct challenge to the cloud of gloom and doom we’ve all had to live under for the last 18 months, and in a country like South Africa where good news is often hard to find even in the best of times these days, the Tour has become like a beacon for better times ahead.
So therefore, we side with Gatland and the Springboks in wanting the Tour to continue despite the minefields it’s had to cross already and the ones still lying in wait. In a land where Nelson Mandela once famously said that “sport has the power to inspire and unite people in a way that little else does”, the Lions and the Springboks recognize that this Tour is bigger than just rugby at a time when South Africa desperately needs to find a way to smile and cheer.