South Africa v British & Irish Lions, Pretoria, June 27
O'Connell rues injury losses
June 27, 2009
Paul O'Connell's tenure as Lions skipper will end in failure © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions skipper Paul O'Connell cut a dejected figure following his side's 28-25 second Test loss to South Africa, having conceded the series to the Springboks in heart-wrenching fashion.
O'Connell's men let slip a 16-8 half-time lead at Loftus Versfeld, condemning the tour to failure after their defeat in the first Test in Durban. In a fierce second half the tourists lost props Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins and centres Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll to injury.
"It was very disappointing the way it all panned out. We had a lot of injuries and I suppose they told," he told Sky Sports. "It was tough but we just didn't play enough in the second half. We were all over them when we played in the first half. I thought we did enough to get the draw and keep the series alive.
"Before I came on tour I knew we could do it - but we needed to do it for 80 minutes. We did it for the second 40 last week and the first 40 this week. The commitment was incredible, all the lads are so proud and want to win for the Lions."
Lions coach Ian McGeechan could not recreate his winning effort of 12 years ago, but remained proud of the effort shown by his players.
"I thought the boys were outstanding, we got in a winning position but didn't finish it off and some of the injuries have probably helped that. I have told them I'm proud of their performance and their whole attitude through the game," he said. "I don't think anyone expected us to be as competitive as we were in both Tests. With some luck we could be stood here with two wins or one win - but that's how it goes.
"We had a couple of chances but needed a bit of composure to put them away. We could have been almost out of sight by half-time but in the second half we didn't make the best decisions sometimes to keep the pattern we want, which causes problems. We needed more possession and territory.
"The sad thing is there are some significant injuries we'll have to review. We'll know a bit more later but it disrupted us and stopped the flow of a team that was playing very well."
As for Schalk Burger's early gouge on Luke Fitzgerald which saw the South African flanker escape severe punishment, McGeechan said: "That's for the citing officer to look at. "You heard the conversation between the ref and touch judge and I think it'll probably be taken on from there. We've all seen it, but it's not up to me to judge."
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers had a clear view of the incident - believing that Burger did not deserve a yellow card.
"I don't believe it was a card at all," De Villiers told Reuters. "In the first minute already there had been a lot of needle and if you watch the whole game you will see how many yellow cards they were let off.
"This is sport, this is what it's about," De Villiers said. "If things were clearcut then we shouldn't even bother preparing for a game. Everyone is entitled to their opinion."
Simon Shaw made his Lions Test debut 12 years after his first tour and claimed the Man of the Match honour, but said that he took little solace from personal glory in the face of defeat.
"It's devastating to have lost, especially in that fashion. Even if we'd drawn and taken it to the last game it would have been some comfort. It's not a way to finish," he said. "Geech (coach Ian McGeechan) has said we should be proud of ourselves but we've lost the series and that's what we came to win. It's difficult to lift anyone right now.
"I'd have rather been taken off at half-time for playing poorly than won Man of the Match and lost. I would rather have won this game and played badly - but that's how it goes."
Shaw watched Steyn's kick bisect the posts, and will not be looking back on it with any fondness.
"I watched it, all the way unfortunately. It went straight down the middle," he said. "I thought we may have had a chance to kick-off and go for another penalty but we didn't. That's the way it goes."