Lions make Back’s year

Legendary flanker Neil Back says the Lions gave him three of his greatest rugby moments of 2009. [more]

Lions make Back’s year

Legendary flanker Neil Back says the Lions gave him three of his greatest rugby moments of 2009.

The World Cup winning openside, who became the oldest Test Lion when he faced the All Blacks five years ago, claims the greatest game of the year, the greatest try of the year and the game’s most-influential figure of the year all came from the Lions’ summer tour of South Africa.

Back, who now coaches Leeds Carnegie and has admitted that he would dearly love to be involved with the Lions once more at some stage in his career, highlights the Lions’ third-Test win over the Springboks as the most memorable fixture of 2009.

The tourists bounced back from a heartbreaking defeat in Pretoria to record their biggest-ever win against South Africa as they reminded the world exactly what the Lions are capable of. And Back, who featured in five Lions Tests between 1997 and 2005, believes the 28-9 victory was the least they deserved. 

“This is a difficult choice but for me it has to come from the Lions tour to South Africa, and the one I have gone for is the final Test victory for the tourists,” said Back, when listing the greatest game of the year in his Eurosport column.

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“The first two Tests were utterly enthralling, but I think the final Test clinches it on account of the superb character shown by Ian McGeechan’s men and the fact their victory really put Lions tours back on the map.

“Everyone was bitterly disappointed after 2005: Sir Clive Woodward’s approach had not worked, so Geech reintroduced the old Lions ethos and that was most evident in the final Test.

“A superb victory, full of thrilling rugby and no shortage of character, especially when you consider the number of injuries the Lions had suffered and the fact some players were playing out of position.”

It’s a similar story when it comes to his greatest try of the year as Back again opts for a score from that thrilling series between the globe’s most-famous touring team and the reigning world champions.

Back opts for Ireland full back Rob Kearney’s fine effort in the opening stages of the second Test at Loftus Versfeld – a try that set the tone for a stunning performance from both Kearney and the Lions, and one that came within minutes of helping the Lions level the series. 

“Again my selection comes from the Lions tour and I have gone for Rob Kearney’s try in the second Test,” added Back.

“After a great offload from Stephen Jones, the Ireland full-back showed great composure to not pass to Tommy Bowe outside him and instead hold on to the ball before showing great finishing skills and sliding over for the score.

“What I also liked about the score was the confidence the Lions showed to play that way. Under other coaches, Jones may not have delivered the crucial pass, but Geech had clearly installed in his players the confidence to play that way and we were treated to some thrilling rugby.”

Finally Back gives a third honour to the Lions by selecting head coach Sir Ian McGeechan as his rugby person of 2009.

The 63-year-old Scot took part in his seventh Lions tour last summer and almost led the Lions to his third series victory as coach following previous successes in 1989 and 1997.

Having played under him on that historic tour 13 years ago and again when McGeechan was mid-week coach in 2005, Back knows better than most the impact that Geech has had and continues to have on the world game.

“I make no apologies for continuing along the same theme and I have gone for someone who represents what the Lions are all about more than anyone in their illustrious history: Ian McGeechan.

“Everyone was delighted when Geech was again put in charge. He embraced the old ethos of the Lions and managed to bring pride back to the Lions jersey.”

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