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Expert Analysis: South Africa 28-25 Lions

Updated: Sunday, 28 Jun 2009 13:41

Conor O'Shea
Conor O'Shea

By Conor O'Shea

What a game! From the Lions' perspective, devastation, but when the players look back at this game they will realise they took part in something very special. However, in sport, second place is nothing.

Whereas this game will rank amongst the great test matches played, ultimately this Lions touring party will only be remembered as a losing one.

It is now seven straight test matches in a row since the Lions won a game, and the way they finished - looking more like a scene from ER as opposed to a rugby team - they will struggle next week, both physically and motivationally.

Of course next week counts for nothing; the series is over.

So where do we start with a game like Saturday’s?

The first kick-off saw the Boks catch and set up an ominous driven maul which the Lions took down to give a penalty. You thought to yourself 'here we go again', but in the midst of the mayhem Schalk Burger had gouged Luke Fitzgerald’s eye and the penalty was reversed.

Burger was carded – it should have been red - and Stephen Jones landed the penalty and the Lions were ready to roll.

They completely dominated the first half with the all-Irish back three of Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald absolutely majestic, with Kearney in particular giving a display that must rank as one of the all-time great individual performances by any full back in international rugby.

I have said before these three have an age profile that means if they are injury-free they can dominate international rugby for years to come, and they will be pressurised by the likes of Keith Earls, so the future is incredibly bright for Irish rugby.

With the domination the Lions had in the first half they could and should have been out of sight, but the Boks are not World Champions for nothing.

You could say that the Lions were unlucky with injuries but part of that was down to the physical nature of the challenges and intensity the Lions brought to the game.

It was the classic case of bodies on the line with no care for personal safety. It was brilliant and despite crossing the line from time to time on both sides in terms of legality, it was special.

Whereas the Lions, with Stephen Jones’s kicking impeccable from both hand and ground and setting up Rob Kearney for his try with a brilliant sleight of hand, still left chances behind, the Springboks were ill disciplined and were left to scrap to stay in the game.

Shaun Edwards as defensive coach will probably rue the fact that both Springbok wings, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, scored off set phase moves and the score that Jacques Fourie scored won’t go into the Ronan O’Gara scrap book.

To be fair to O’Gara, it was a mismatch you don’t want to have and Fourie’s finish was incredible in the corner.

Stephen Jones must think he will always be the bridesmaid. In this year’s Six Nations, Jones put Wales ahead only for O’Gara to hit the final note to win the Grand Slam for Ireland.

This time Jones levelled the game for the Lions only for O’Gara to give the penalty away and with the last kick of the game the local hero Morne Steyn hit the 55-yard winner.

It was the sort of game that scapegoats will be sought for but the truth is that these gladiators should be lauded for the game they played.

Test matches are won by small margins and this was no different. The loss of Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins in the front row was as big as losing Roberts and O’Driscoll in the centre.

The two props injuries allowed the scrums to go uncontested and that brought the otherwise anonymous Pierre Spies at number 8 into the game.

Man of this particular match went to the old man of the team, Simon Shaw. How Rob Kearney didn’t get it I will never know, although Shaw was magnificent and it is testament to the durability of the old warrior.

All in all the Lions will be devastated. For a lot of them it was their one shot at Lions immortality and it is now gone.

They and the coaches deserve a huge amount of credit but they will struggle to get a side out next week with their injuries and with nothing to play for you can be assured the injuries won’t clear quite so quickly.

For the Boks it is job done and they were impressive in that they didn’t play as well as they can.

They may well miss out on both Bakkies Botha and Burger for next week but they won’t care for they have got the revenge their nation has craved since 1997.