Scrum Sevens
Bad day at the office
Huw Baines
June 23, 2009

The first Test of a British & Irish Lions series carries with it a weight of expectation usually reserved for Rugby World Cup finals. Pity the men then, who are unfortunate enough to endure a nightmare experience with the eyes of fans from all four Home Unions trained upon them. Barbs from the home fans, sledging from opposing players and scorn from their own supporters - they all await the men who falter on the biggest stage.

Blame the ref, blame your opponent's underhand tactics, blame your studs - it won't stop the massed ranks from spilling their beers in fits of anger.

Phil Vickery - South Africa v Lions, first Test, Durban, 2009

Never has a nickname seemed more mocking. As the Lions' 'raging bull' went up against the Springbok 'Beast' - Tendai Mtawarira - there was no contest.

Vickery, a proud player and a favourite of fans and colleagues due to his quiet, gentlemanly demeanour off field, was mauled in a first-half so one-sided that the Lions' pre-Test confidence in their scrum was thrown back in their face accompanied by jeers from the massed ranks at Durban's Kings Park.

The Lions played up the apparently illegal tactics of the Springboks and trained their crosshairs on New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence but there was no hiding as the England prop was repeatedly forced inside - conceding several penalties that proved to be the difference on the scoreboard at full time.

Brian O'Driscoll & Jonny Wilkinson, New Zealand v Lions, first Test, Christchurch 2005

Lions skipper Brian O'Driscoll was a victim of one of the most infamous acts of foul play in recent memory in the opening seconds of the first Test in Christchurch, spear-tackled out of the tour about five minutes after lacing up his boots.

After he was withdrawn, the Lions were upstaged by a superb All Blacks effort. Jonny Wilkinson, injured and out of form, was hung out to dry. A great fly-half in his pomp, Jonny was shifted out-of-position to inside-centre, with Gavin Henson left seething on the sideline, and was summarily outplayed by Aaron Mauger. What made it worse, was before his eyes the man with No.10 on his back for the All Blacks was Dan Carter - no longer a pretender to Wilkinson's crown as best fly-half in the game but the real deal.

Terry Holmes - South Africa 1980 & New Zealand 1983

As successor to Gareth Edwards in the Wales No.9 jersey, Terry Holmes had a task so difficult that he might have been better served attempting to single-handedly re-build the Pyramids next-door to the Arms Park.

One thing that Holmes had on his side however was that he was one of the best scrum-halves produced by Wales, his physicality ahead of its time behind a retreating pack and a shining light in the lean years of the early 80s. In the red of the Lions he endured a nightmare. Selected in 1980 and injured before the Test series, he finally was handed the chance to impress on the 1983 tour of New Zealand.

In the first Test at Lancaster Park in Christchurch, Holmes made his Lions debut. Running on to the field may be his best memory in a Lions shirt however, as his injury curse struck once again. Following the Lions' gruelling schedule of six games in just over two weeks, Holmes was carried from the field to be replaced by third-choice scrum-half Roy Laidlaw for the remaining three Tests - Nigel Melville also missing out through injury. Holmes didn't play another Test for almost a year, and played only six more before 'heading north' to play rugby league.

Dean Richards, New Zealand v Lions, first Test, Christchurch, 1993

A great No.8 and a formidable presence, Dean Richards was the unfortunate man who drew the misplaced ire of referee Brian Kinsey in the first Test between the Lions and the All Blacks at Lancaster Park in 1993.

The Lions led 18-17 going in to the final moments when Kinsey, who had already awarded a controversial try to All Black centre Frank Bunce, raised his arm for a penalty against Richards following a turnover. 'Deano' was forced to accept that despite the inaccuracy of the refereeing he had lost the Lions the match and as it turned out, the series.

Ciaran Fitzgerald, New Zealand 1983

Many of the greatest captains have fallen back on 'leading by example'; something that Irish hooker Ciaran Fitzgerald would dearly loved to have done in New Zealand in 1983. Fitzgerald arrived in New Zealand with the press already sharpening their knives, his selection had come at the expense of England's Peter Wheeler and he was to start the Tests ahead of the outstanding candidate in Scotland's Colin Deans.

Could he silence his critics? No. In the Tests, where the Lions were whitewashed 4-0, Fitzgerald seemed unaware of the concept that a hooker was supposed to find his jumpers. Deans remained irritated by his exclusion as well, saying, "In 1983, Ciaran was a captain of a good Irish team, with experience round about him, but, come the Lions, he disappeared and went into his shell."

Angus Cameron, South Africa v Lions, second Test, Cape Town, 1955

Following the heroics of the Lions in winning the first Test 23-22 in front of a record crowd of 95,000 at Ellis Park, attention shifted to the second Test in Cape Town. The Boks shifted their focus to fullback Angus Cameron, a versatile Scot who won Test caps at fly-half, centre and fullback.

Cameron was nursing an injured knee and was mercilessly targeted by the hosts' kickers, winger Tom van Vollenhoven bagging a hat-trick as the hobbling Cameron failed to protect his line. Cameron was subsequently described as a 'mediocre fullback' by South African rugby writer AC Parker and did not play again on tour.


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