Four-time head coach Sir Ian McGeechan believes The British & Irish Lions will rue their missed opportunities after they lost the series against South Africa 2-1.
The Lions went into the break with a slim lead but some Cheslin Kolbe brilliance coupled with the experience of Morne Steyn gave South Africa a 19-16 win to seal a comeback series victory.
Sky Sports and Talksport pundits reflected on the heartbreaking loss for Warren Gatland’s tourists and how they can use this disappointment in four years’ time.
Speaking on Sky Sports, McGeechan – the orchestrator of the Lions’ last series win in South Africa in 1997 – believed the tourists had chances to take the series victory but weren’t able to take them.
McGeechan said: “To me, it is a big missed opportunity. The Lions were, I think, much the better side, but they missed their opportunities in that first half, really. They could have been a clear 10/12 points ahead.
“They had to keep playing, I would like to have seen them maybe kick a couple more penalties, but the quality of the rugby was so different to what had been there before and it created the opportunities.
“For the first time, South Africa, I think, were left wondering about what they were doing, and Finn Russell coming on was very important, he’s had a big say in almost the win.
“It won’t be an easy dressing room to walk into, and I never thought I would be looking at the same circumstances, again, two Tours to South Africa on the trot.
“I know what those players are going through, and the coaches, it’s a tough, tough place to be.”
LEFT IT ALL OUT THERE
2017 Lions tourist James Haskell looked to the positives of an enthralling decider: “I think rugby was the winner, going into the cliches. The Lions played the best they can.
“Yes, there were decisions over whether they should have gone for points. I think people will talk about Finn Russell, etc, but the decision wasn’t his.
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“The decision was part of the game plan and sometimes when you feel, and that’s the problem when you’re on the field and you feel something’s going well, you have a go at it and if it comes off you are a genius, if you don’t, it’s a mistake.
“I think the Lions are brilliant, I know this wasn’t the Test series we wanted, but for some of those Lions, it’s the only opportunity they’re ever going to get and I’m pleased for them.
“I’m sure when they reflect back, they’ll know they left nothing out there.”
HAVE TO TAKE THE POINTS
Three-time tourist Ronan O’Gara, who was part of the Tour to South Africa in 2009 that was lost in almost identical circumstances, agreed with McGeechan.
“With the team point of view, they will be very disappointed obviously because it’s brutal, it’s ruthless this level of the sport, because the higher you go, the margins get smaller and smaller and that’s what we saw,” he said.
“There was probably two chances to win the series, the first Test, they did the business and then the second 40 minutes of the second Test, they stood on their throat and they didn’t kill off South Africa.
“You look at, it probably came down to Liam Williams hitting Josh Adams outside him or Duhan van der Merwe scoring and those decisions cost them.
“In cup rugby, it’s imperative you take your points, you have just got to take your points. You have to give huge credit to South Africa, in the fact that a great team find a way to win,
“It may not be pretty to some people, but you look at them today when their scrum was needed when their maul was needed, and what’s completely under-appreciated again is when you have got a genius like Kolbe, it matters.”
KOLBE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
Former Springbok captain and 2009 series winner Bryan Habana was quick to praise Kolbe.
Habana said: “I think his ability to, in a small matter of space, do the most incredible things is phenomenal and I think Wille Le Roux has got to get some kudos for the effort he played, I think making the right decisions, unlike Liam Williams, was absolutely superb.
“Long may the impact that Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi are doing for the Springbok side continue because it is such a joy to watch.
“I think the manner in which he just lifts himself up at the big moments is something that makes me as a South African extremely proud.”
World Cup winner and Vodafone ambassador Maggie Alphonsi added that the beaten Lions must use this heartbreak to motivate them for the series to Australia in four years’ time.
She said: “We’ve all been in games where we have lost and you stand there and watch the presentation, you see them get their medals you see them get their trophy, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
“But at the same time, when you’ve lost like this you bottle this feeling, and it will drive you for another four years.
“So, for those players who will get a second chance to come back at this Lions series, you hope that this will drive them on to get a series win.”