2013 SAW THE Lions end a 16-year wait for a series success as they defeated Australia 2-1, but will it be remembered fondly?
The build-up to the tour saw the need for the invitational multi-national touring side to earn victory repeatedly highlighted, with some commentators questioning whether the Lions even had a future if they continued to lose. Some supporters had grown disillusioned with the concept itself, but winning down under was seen as the panacea to the problems.
Warren Gatland’s men powered to that important success in emphatic style in the third Test, but how much has really changed? For many Irish supporters, the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll left a sour taste, although there were other reasons for disenchantment around the tour.
The nagging suspicion that the Wallabies simply weren’t a very good team leaves the real weight of the Lions achievements in doubt.
Let us immediately balance that statement by saying that any winning Lions squad is a laudable one. Beating the host nation after mere weeks of preparation, with a squad brought together from four different countries is excellent. The effort the Lions put into conquering Australia after a long, demanding season is something that every player, coach, fan and journalist should take inspiration from.
That much is obvious, but still, the question remains; were the Wallabies actually a good team? Should the Lions have made much easier work of their series win? Ewen McKenzie’s version of Australia are almost certainly a better side than the one Gatland’s charges faced, with better balance in the team as well as a natural out-half.
James O’Connor lined out against the Lions during the summer, and while he is a superb rugby player, the 23-year-old provided proof that he is not a 10. The London Irish man possesses wonderful footwork and is generally quite rounded, but at out-half he failed to spark his teammates in an attacking sense.
O’Connor was second best in the battle at out-half. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
Cooper’s distribution and vision have allowed the Wallabies to attack with greater variety ever since, while his kicking and organisation skills are also superior to O’Connor’s. The Reds playmaker sat at home watching on as O’Connor failed to bring Robbie Deans’ Wallabies best individual talents together into convincing team performances.
The Wallabies are far from the finished article even now, but their end-of-year displays were more impressive than what they served up against the Lions. Will Genia was on fire during the summer, and Ben Mowen ran an impressive line-out, but beyond that what did the Aussies offer?
The Lions game plan in the first two Tests was dour, with lots of kicking possession away and an utter refusal to counter-attack. There were changes to that in the third game of the series, but only when the Lions scrum became so dominant that victory was the only possibility. There will be no romanticism around the playing style Gatland’s men delivered in Australia.
Experiencing a winning Lions tour for the first time since 1997 was undoubtedly a special experience for players, backroom staff and supporters alike. No one can even attempt to deny that, but it is debatable whether the 2013 Lions will be fondly remembered. There is little temptation to seek out the three Tests for a re-viewing, these were no classics.
There was drama aplenty in the closing of the first two Tests, but the skill level had nothing on South Africa v All Blacks [38-27] or even All Blacks v Australia [41-33]. Gatland’s men did the job and secured a series win; for that they get our unreserved congratulations.
Maybe the Wallabies weren’t particularly excellent, but maybe the Lions would have raised their standards if the hosts had been. There are plenty of would-haves, could-haves and even should-haves around the 2013 Lions tour, but the impression now is that in 16 years time the same fondness in which the 1997 tour is held will not be repeated.
What will your memories of the Lions tour be? Was it one of the classics or will in be easily forgotten?
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >