Ultimately the Lions weren’t the kings of the South African jungle. They played top-class rugby in patches, particularly during Saturday’s first half (aka The Rob Kearney show) but they were taking on the world champions on their own turf at the end of a long hard season, particularly for the Irish lads, who in the main did us proud. A pity that it should end with Ronan O’Gara’s rush of blood to his possibly fuzzy head.
Perspective is a routine casualty in any situation where it’s us against them, and the latter are cast as the evil to our good. Donal Lenihan had his Munster rose-tinted glasses on last Friday when previewing the second test on Newstalk. If he were picking the team, based on, ahem, “temperament” as much as talent, O’Gara would be in and Steven Jones would be dropped.
Circumstances conspired to prove how wrong he was. Jones was practically flawless; O’Gara, well, useless might be a bit unkind. His tame attempt at a tackle for the Springboks’ disputed third try, coupled with his moment of madness in chasing his Garryowen and taking out the catcher in the air, made him an inevitable scapegoat. It looked to me like a botched attempt to make amends: a case of someone who occasionally appears to try too little, trying too hard.
That O’Gara was prepared to take the penultimate penalty with which Jones had drawn the Lions level indicated that he was maybe looking to get his name in lights.
He’s worked wonders over the years for Munster and Ireland (mostly with his boot; don’t forget who kicked the drop-goal that won the Grand Slam), but ultimately the man from San Diego is not true world-class. As someone from another sporting sphere might say: a good player not a great player. Just as the ’09 Lions were a better team on paper.