Injury aided Danny’s dream

Injury has so often been the scourge of a player's dream of representing the Lions but for one current star it was a blessing in disguise. [more]

Injury aided Danny’s dream

Injury has so often been the scourge of a player’s dream of representing the Lions but for one current star it was a blessing in disguise.

In 2009 alone injury wrecked the tour hopes of Tom Shanklin and Jerry Flannery even before their adventure had begun, while Test hopefuls such as Stephen Ferris and Euan Murray were ruled out prior to the start of the three-match series against the Springboks.

In New Zealand four years earlier it was skipper Brian O’Driscoll’s horror injury just minutes into the first Test that stole the headlines as iconic figures such as Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill had the curtains drawn prematurely on their own impressive Lions careers.

But in 2001, when the Lions last travelled to Australia, one member of Graham Henry’s touring party believes his own chances were boosted by injury – and not one suffered by a rival for a Test spot but a setback he himself suffered earlier in the season.

Danny Grewcock broke his jaw playing for Saracens in mid-March but was still named in the 35-man party in late April despite not featuring for his club again that season.

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And the England second row believes that misfortune actually helped him secure a Test place alongside countryman Martin Johnson for the duration of the thrilling series against the Wallabies.

"Getting selected for that tour was a fantastic opportunity. I got lucky in some respects because towards the end of that season I’d broken my jaw," said Grewcock.

"That meant I could do all the training bar the contact work so I got myself in good shape.

"The way I looked at it, I was the last-placed second row on that trip with Scott Murray, Jeremy Davidson, Malcolm O’Kelly and obviously Johnno. There was me and the three other guys all battling for one other place.

"They’d all had far more experience than me. But I think the fact that I was a bit fresher legged than the other guys, that’d I hadn’t played as many games during the latter part of the season, gave me a little bit of an advantage.

"Thankfully, it meant I ended up getting involved in the Test series and that was an amazing experience."

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Danny Grewcock starred for the Lions after a lengthy layoff

While critics had expected Grewcock to struggle after a lengthy lay-off, the then 28-year-old was one of the standout performers of the tour. The likes of O’Driscoll, Jason Robinson, Jonny Wilkinson and Keith Wood may have grabbed the headlines but Grewcock was one of the most consistent performers on Australian soil.

Grewcock featured in six games Down Under, starting all three Tests against the world champions and forming an impressive partnership with tour skipper Johnson. The man himself refuses to overestimate his own contribution, however, instead preferring to give a typically modest evaluation of how he worked his way into contention for a place in Britain and Ireland’s dream team.

"You need a bit of luck on these kind of tours. I managed to stay injury free on the tour itself and got involved in some of the good games before the Test series and that gave me the chance to play against Australia," added Grewcock, who would go on to tour once more with the Lions in 2005.

"I didn’t feel under any pressure because I looked at the all the other guys and they were all vastly more experienced than me in terms of the number of caps they had for Ireland or Scotland. It was just a case of going out and giving it my best shot.

"I think everyone felt they had a good chance of a Test spot. We all knew Johnno was captain and we would probably all have admitted that he was streets ahead of most second rows in rugby at the time.

"So we all knew we were battling for one place but I think we felt it was relatively open. We all gave it a go but luck came my way and I managed to hold down my place. Thankfully, it all went in my favour."

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Grewcock featured in all three Tests Down Under

As for the Test series itself, it was case of mixed emotions for the now-Bath veteran.

Grewcock’s immense pride at being selected for a Test spot was then heightened by a stunning team performance in that first-Test win in Brisbane.

The Lions produced one of the most-complete displays in their entire history as they triumphed 29-14 at The Gabba in a match Grewcock still views as one of his favourites of all time.

But elation turned to despair over the next two weekends as the Wallabies hit back to edge the series 2-1 after a nail-biting third-Test win in Sydney. And Grewcock admits that defeat left a lingering sense of disappointment, especially as the margins between success and failure were so fine.

"I still rank that first Test in Brisbane as one of the best-ever atmosphere’s for a game. That’s what the Lions brings. It just adds that something special.

"We got a good start. They were the World Champions, they were the Tri Nations Champions and they were a team that had been there and done it all. We’d had a relatively tough tour travelling around Australia and perhaps the expectation on us wasn’t too high for that first Test, but the boys pulled out a performance.

"But, ultimately, you’re there to win a series. You’re far more critical when your team loses. Success can smooth over a lot of things.

"One try could have made the difference between a series loss and a series win for us. The boys gave it their all and sometimes you can give it your all but, whether it’s a bit of luck, an interception or because you’re playing as good an opposition as they were, you don’t get what you perhaps feel you deserve. That’s tough, but that’s the way sport goes.

"There’s no doubt that was a brilliant Australian team at the time. I don’t think it was any disgrace for us to have lost the series but would I have wanted to win, do I think we were good enough it to win it? Yeah. The series was close and little decisions meant they won it and we didn’t."

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