Why we just can’t accept a draw in the British & Irish Lions Series
While eric has been at the heart of the Lions Series, producing the matchday programmes and spreading the word about Rhino’s Lions collection, we’re still rugby fans and we just can’t get over the fact it ended in a draw. This is why…
Perhaps it’s just too soon to be over it, or maybe there’s something wrong with me. With us? Whatever the reason, there’s no getting away from the completely unsatisfying end to the Lions series. Yes, we should move on, but how can we? It’s not done, it’s not finished, it’s not anything.
The Lions didn’t win, the All Blacks didn’t win, literally and metaphorically, nobody won. We can all get a warm fuzzy feeling from looking at that picture of the two sides, the big, post-match, love-in. We did exactly that. But when you click to the next picture, or turn the page, you go back to that feeling of a relationship not quite running its course. The problem is there was just no closure.
This isn’t a one-night thing. It’s a relationship that’s been bubbling away for years, building more passionate with every passing day. We travelled together, we did the campervan thing, we went far more than the 500 miles (or indeed the ‘500 more’) you’re supposed to commit to for a loving relationship. We laughed together, especially when we saw how well all the Lions got on and how the self-proclaimed ‘Bantersaurus Rex’ James Haskell had an Instagram love-in with Sean O’Brien. Such japes. There was dancing (especially from those Kiwis sides before virtually every game), there was singing (Ohhhh Maro Ito-jay, ohhh Maro Ito-jay), you even set up a choir to make sweet music together.
Even though we were fans looking in, we were still there for you – we won together, then lost, then won, then lost, then won, then won again, then drew, then lost, then won, then drew… but now it’s over and it’s the most unsatisfying feeling we’ve ever had from, well, anything, sporting, general life, anything.
It all ended so abruptly and none of us saw it coming. Even Sam Warburton admitted he was ready for a dropkick shootout. It’s like we’ve been dumped and there’s no explanation – everything was going so well, were we too clingy?
Needless to say, the sage, wise old heads of the media, remind us it was a wonderful Series and we should appreciate it for being that and indeed it was, it was epic. Which is why it needs a proper ending. Imagine if Luke Skywalker had never hit that weak spot in the Death Star and he’d just got home safely in time for tea? Or if Rocky and Ivan Drago had just decided to call it a draw and talk through their differences? Even if it’s not the right result, like when Hooch died in Turner’s arms, it’s still an ending, we can deal with it – eventually (oh Hooch, you loveable rogue). We can celebrate or commiserate, cry with joy or anguish, and then we can move on to the next thing.
But there’s no moving on from this Lions tour, just ask any fan who went through it – even the ones who say ‘it was a win for rugby’ are either saying it to be contrary, profound, or just don’t support either side enough – or are Australian, French or South African. This is why we’ve had calls this week for the Barbarians to call up the Lions matchday 23 for their game against the All Blacks, albeit the calls instantly being shot down due to player release or some such technicality.
So where does that leave us?
Well, Warren Gatland gets a chance to complete his Series win in November when the All Blacks rock up in Cardiff, but when he sits down to write out his teamsheet, he’ll remember that Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell are English. Curses.
Perhaps it could be Scotland the week before, when they face the All Blacks? But it’s hard to imagine a nation quite as riled when their finest didn’t get a look in at Test time. They’ll have a point to prove for sure, but to Gatland not Hansen.
After that? Well, England face the All Blacks in November 2018 – that should cure all the Celtic nations of wanting the Kiwis to lose. And then we’re at the Rugby World Cup, where it’s each side for itself once again.
But who are we kidding? World Cups, summer tours, autumn series, these are just dates and silver pots. And so it’s back to the Lions again. Even the tours of South Africa (we beat them at their best in 1997) and Australia (too easy), won’t cure us.
All they’ll do is bring up the memories of other times we wore our favourite red shirts and what happened then. I’ll tell you what happened, we were on the brink of ultimate glory, or crushing defeat, but ended up feeling neither. Nothing. Numb. A sporting purgatory.
Whatever anyone tells you, the only thing that’s going to cure us is the next Lions tour to New Zealand. Yes, it’s in 12 years’ time, yes we’ll probably get destroyed as the All Blacks will have been sparked into yet more vast improvement and overhaul of their systems having almost lost a series. But at least in defeat we’ll feel something again. Roll on 2029.
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