South Africa 9-28 British & Irish Lions, Johannesburg, July 4
McGeechan signs off with victory
July 3, 2009
Lions skipper Paul O'Connell thanked their travelling fans © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan admitted that his side's 28-9 win over South Africa in the third Test in Johannesburg will likely be his last involvement with the famous tourists, praising his players and thanking them for their efforts in restoring pride following two heartbreaking Test losses.
"They picked themselves up well," he told Sky Sports 1. "I mean the dressing room last week was one I never wanted to be in, so to come this week, play like that, shows they're an outstanding group of players.
"I was worried that they wouldn't play or might go into their shells a bit but we didn't and we scored some very good tries today. There is disappointment still in that we could have been coming into this one 1-0 or 2-0 up. So it's a satisfaction but a secondary satisfaction because we came here to win the series. I think it will be my last Lions involvement. I'd like to thank the players, they've been outstanding to a man.
"This victory will last for four years. It has been a fantastic series, probably one of the outstanding Test series I have been involved in. I must say congratulations to the Springboks. They won the series we both wanted. But what these players have achieved in just six weeks should not be underestimated. They have played the world champions in their own back yard and given as good as they have got for three Tests.
"There was just a total of eight points difference in the first two Tests. We thought it might be the same in this one but the players came with a real intent and focus and it showed."
Lions skipper Paul O'Connell also praised his side's effort, and also singled out wing Ugo Monye and fly-half Stephen Jones for their contributions in the victory.
"It was a very tough week mentally for everyone. We just really dug deep. Some guys produced some serious form and produced some great scores. We were determined to dig as deep as we could," he said. "I hope people don't misconstrue our lap of honour. We're under no illusions we lost the Test series, but a lot of people paid a lot of money to come out here, we wanted to thank them.
"I think anyone works very well with their backs to the wall. We've probably never had our backs to the wall as much! With Jamie (Roberts) and Brian O'Driscoll out, they have probably been our best two players so it was going to be very tough for us.
"The guys are very conscious of the Lions ethos and wanted to do it proud. The first Test we could have won, the second we should have won... we were eager that kind of memory wouldn't be upset by a poor performance today, knowing we were beaten and throwing in the towel."
O'Connell concluded by congratulating South Africa on their series win, hoping that his side had done enough to earn the respect of their opponents.
"The team that wins is the better team. You do what you have to do to win," he said. "The trophy goes to the team that wins. Ian McGeechan said before the game you earn respect by winning. Sure, people have been patting us on the backs for our performances but for some guys here it was the first win on the southern hemisphere, and that's important."
Springboks coach John Smit savoured his side's series win and also lent his support to the Lions concept, which has come in for criticism during this tour.
"We have lost today but we have a series win behind us," he said. "If we had asked this group the day after the World Cup if they would take a 2-1 series win against the Lions, they would have all taken it. Today the Lions were all over us in every department. They were better than us, they had more intensity and it was a well deserved victory.
"It makes us appreciate the series victory all the more knowing we played a top Lions side. It was an amazing experience from start to finish, from the day they arrived. It is still one of the most prized things rugby has to offer. The toughness of game, the competitiveness of the series, how close it was. If anything should be kept, the Lions should be kept."