‘IRB must give Lions a fair chance’

The IRB needs to restructure the international calendar to afford the Lions more time to prepare according to Ian McGeechan.

The Lions won the third and final Test on Saturday to avoid a Springbok whitewash, and although McGeechan admits he wouldn’t have done anything different in terms of tactical preparation, he still believes a lack of game time puts touring Lions teams at a disadvantage.

McGeechan’s Lions played six games in three weeks before meeting the Springboks for the first time in Durban. According to the man who masterminded the series win over the Boks in 1997, it’s not enough time to develop the necessary combinations.

‘Back home the question has to be asked, “Are we being given a fair chance?” There are two major tournaments on the IRB calendar, namely the World Cup and the Lions series. If they are planned two years out there needs to be a season structure that allows players more time prepare for these series,’ he said.

‘The players have proved it on this tour, and judging from the support out there, the fans also believe the Lions are capable of winning these series. Some serious thought needs to go into improving the situation.’

Both coaches made a number of changes for this game but McGeechan suggested it was the refereeing of Stuart Dickinson that finally saw a result go the Lions’ way.

‘We got a couple of 50/50 calls going our way for a change. I’ve said it all along, we haven’t had many lucky breaks in this series.

‘On the other hand, I’m very proud of my boys. Congratulations to South Africa for winning the series, but on this occasion, we were very accurate and very intense. There were only eight points difference in those first two Tests, so it shows how tight this series has been,’ he said.

The Lions coach lauded his captain for the way he led the team, but Paul O’Connell gave all the credit to his players. After losing the series 2-0 and a host of players to injury, it was tough to get up for a match dubbed meaningless by most.

‘It’s been a very tough week, but everyone stood up. I’m proud of the boys, they dug very deep and showed what the Lions’ jersey is all about.

‘Sport can be cruel and we were devastated after that loss [at Loftus Versfeld]. But to come back from that and beat the world champions in their own backyard is a great effort. It’s something the guys will remember for the rest of their careers.’

O’Connell admitted touring South Africa was one of the toughest challenges he’s ever had to face as a rugby player. Besides adjusting to aspects like the local conditions, it has also been difficult to adjust to playing alongside Six Nations rivals.

‘Everybody played for everybody, and everybody galvanised everybody. The senior players really stood up, I don’t want to mention names but a guy like Phil Vickery was a leader himself.

‘Playing for your province or your country is easier because you’re in your comfort zone. Coming here and having to work with players you don’t usually play with takes you out of your comfort zone.

‘It’s brought us together and we’ll remember this win for a long time, it’s a good result for the Lions. If we didn’t win today, it would’ve been a long, long summer.’

By Jon Cardinelli, at Ellis Park