Magazine article The Spectator

Pride of Lions

Magazine article The Spectator

Pride of Lions

Article excerpt

It was when Charlie Starmer-Smith, son of England's Nigel and no mean scrum half in his own right, pulled himself to his full height of 5ft something, peered a long way up and asked Simon Shaw, the Lions and England oak tree of a second row, whether he'd mind if he, Charlie, tried to lift him up. It was then that I realised quite how special a Lions tour is, and this one in particular. Admittedly it was 4 a. m. , some alcohol had been taken, and we were in the middle of the Taboo nightclub in downtown Johannesburg where the triumphant Lions joshed, joked, chatted and posed for photos with the hundreds of fans who wanted to share the moment. There's James Hook, laughing and shaking hands, Mike Phillips, battered and smiling, mighty Paul O'Connell, Shane Williams, good old Shane, everyone wants a chat with him. We are all having the time of our lives. Meanwhile Shaw, who is 19 1/2 stone and one of the great athletic successes of this tour, wisely told Charlie that he didn't think it was a good idea. Big guys, these Lions.

This has been a fantastic tour, spectacularly well managed by Ian McGeechan and his coaching staff. And this time we have been blessed with three of the best matches of Test rugby you could hope to see. The shame was that the Lions weren't going into the last one on Saturday in Jo'burg 2-0 up, as they so easily could have been. Just to be in the land of the long white sock for the last Test was an immense privilege, and one shared by tens of thousands of other people from these islands, maybe up to 40,000. Men, women and children from all over, families, couples loving the moment;

every range of accent filling the stands and the bars and restaurants. Beforehand the talk of the brutal Boks, the loss of O'Driscoll in that kamikaze assault on Danie Roussouw, whether Vickery could get his revenge, would Shane come good. Then afterwards, sweet relief and joy at that most thumping of victories, a recordequalling 28-9, that glorious assertion of the wonders of northern hemisphere rugby, in all its raw courage, speed of thought and hand (watch Riki Flutey's magician-like flick for Shane Williams's second try), sheer physical commitment and immense comradeship. …

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