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Hats off, but let's not get too carried away
ESPN Staff
July 8, 2013
Lions coach Warren Gatland and tour manager Andy Irvine share a joke in the wake of their series triumph © Getty Images

Hats off, as sportsmen invariably say, to Warren Gatland and his triumphant Lions. On Saturday they trounced Australia in splendid style, a display of all round power and immense skill from numbers one to 15 and beyond, through the squad, the medical team and the support staff.

The brilliance of the third Test performance, however, was what the Lions set out to achieve from way back, with a strategy, a budget, a timetable and resources to make it happen. In proving what could be achieved, we were shown what wasn't achieved in the first two Tests, and let's remember that no matter how big the margin in Sydney, the series remains won because Australia's first choice kicker left the fray in the first minute of the first Test.

The Wallabies are not a great team. Coached by a dead-man-walking, who resolutely refused to pick Australia's best fly-half to partner his state scrum-half, they didn't help themselves. Their chosen fly-half, O'Connor, has been sacked by Melbourne Rebels since the Test. Like the Lions they were hit by injuries, but even when they lost so many three-quarters in the first Test that a flanker, Hooper, had to play centre, they stayed in the game to the final kick. Hats off to the wounded Wallabies.

The Lions pack reigned supreme in Sydney, Corbisiero and Adam Jones in particular making midgets of their opponents, and yet it took a northern hemisphere referee and some Wallabies turning to putty for a complete performance to take shape.

James Horwill's mysterious escape from punishment for stamping will have played on his mind, particularly when face to face with his victim, Alan Wyn Jones for the toss before Saturday's finale. We can only speculate that Jones called tails, perhaps pointing out that Horwill is known to go for heads.

The appointment of Jones as captain proved inspired, but until Saturday evening nobody, not even Gatland, knew what his best team was. Croft, Tom Youngs, Ben Youngs, and Heaslip were, apparently, picked on form and swiftly dumped. Faletau, Hibbard and O'Brien, on the other hand, rose from dirt-trackers to form players in Gatland's eyes without playing.

Brian O'Driscoll's omission is not the big deal many are making of it, but it may have been brought on by his obvious frustration after the second Test, "We haven't shown much", suggesting that given some space and a different game plan, the backs would have been more dynamic.

Saturday's selection was a last, desperate roll of the dice, blessed by Australian errors from the top drawer. Seven points gifted by Genia's drop of the kick off - rare good fortune. Horwill's decisions not to kick for goal on five occasions in the first half - madness that all but handed the game to the Lions. If Gatland really knew what he was doing by the third Test, how does he justify being so wide of the mark for the first two?

Former Wallaby, Peter FitzSimons, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, put some perspective on what the Lions were up against, "a valiant British and Irish Lions team finally came to the ends of a staggeringly out-of-sorts Wallaby side". He went on, "From the opening moment of the match before 84,000 ravenous rugby fans, the Wallabies first half really was a litany of horror: dropped balls, wayward kicks, collapsed scrums, missed tackles, endless penalties, and schoolboy errors that would make an U14C player blush."

The autobiographies could be interesting when they emerge. Hats off, indeed, but let's not get too carried away.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.