My Lions Moment: Joe Worsley

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Joe Worsley

By 2009, Joe Worsley had achieved virtually all there was to achieve in rugby, with the exception of selection for The British & Irish Lions.

At 23 he had narrowly missed out on the 2001 Tour to Australia before again being overlooked four years later.

In that time, he had won a World Cup and a Grand Slam with England as well as domestic and European honours for Wasps.

So when it came to the 2009 Tour to South Africa, Worsley knew that time was running out to add the one accolade that was missing from his already stellar career.

He said: “I almost made the Tour to Australia but missed out on that. With the Lions, there are probably 5-10 players who are cast-iron certainties because of the level of performance that they have put in and the consistency they have. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite in that group.

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“The two Tours I missed out on, unfortunately I wasn’t playing well enough at the time to get picked. I had injuries as well, for one of them, and came back and just wasn’t in a good enough condition to put my bid forward. So I had missed out.

“I always thought there’s a chance if I could stay fit and do a good season. So yeah, after 2009 I was feeling in great shape, after a couple of years of injuries after that World Cup final.

“When you get picked for the Lions there’s normally information which will come before, some smoke signals, which you can see loud and clear.

“On top of that, some communication from coaches involved. It’s when you’re not picked, that’s when you wait in front of the announcement. But you’ve got a pretty rough idea before that it’s going to happen or not going to happen, to be honest. So I knew even before they did the live announcement that I was part of that.

“It’s just fantastic to do. It was an amazing experience, but yeah, I was so happy I did it. And if I hadn’t, I would be frustrated, put it that way.”

Worsley was given a baptism of fire in South Africa, playing in the opening game against the Royal XV in Rustenburg at altitude.

The Lions trailed 18-3 late in the first half and 25-13 with 15 minutes remaining before mounting a stirring comeback.

Worsley’s recollections are rather hazier though, such was the challenge of playing at altitude.

He said: “Playing in the first game wasn’t great as it turned out. We arrived three days before, we were playing at altitude. I remember coming in at half-time thinking this is untenable, I don’t know how I’ll continue.

“One of the Welsh boys was holding the wall, struggling back to the changing rooms. Looking back, it’s unfortunate because it wasn’t a good performance. Even something like that can hinder your selection later in the Tour. Even though I played a lot of games on that Lions Tour, I didn’t play in either of the first two Tests, which is frustrating. But the guys who were picked were playing really well.”

Joe Worsley

After missing out on the first two Tests, Worsley got his chance in the final Test in Johannesburg.

While hope of a series victory had evaporated in dramatic fashion with Morne Steyn’s late penalty a week earlier, there was still a lot riding on that final Test.

And for Worsley, it is a game that will live long in the memory.

He recalls: “Playing at Ellis Park is never a dead rubber. I think playing in South Africa for the Lions, it was a fantastic performance, we got our strategy right. We got our tactics right. And the performance was very good.

“It’s a shame it wasn’t for a draw or a win. That would have been something far more epic, but nevertheless it’s going to remain a highlight. When I think of rugby, I always think of moments like those.”

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