Sporting memories for the ages

Lions and All Blacks congratulate each other after the final test at Eden Park. Photo: ODT files
Lions and All Blacks congratulate each other after the final test at Eden Park. Photo: ODT files
One significant sideline to sport is how it creates memories. Sporting highlights provide points for reminiscence, both personal and shared. They add to depth of interest and establish a context for other occasions and recollections.

From this angle, the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand was a roaring success, even if, parochially, the All Blacks failed to win the series.

Just imagine if the All Blacks had run rampant and silenced the Lions in a 3-0 whitewash. There would have been a certain pleasure for New Zealanders glowing in the victory of our representatives, a certain pride in being the best of the best and showing the home nations just how good we were. Fundamentally, that is what all true black supporters wanted. Let the rugby world see the power and athleticism of the pack and the strength, skill and verve of the backs.

What happened, though, was unexpected and, as it transpires, all the more exciting for that. The Lions, the cream of England, Ireland and Wales, with a dollop from Scotland, came together under New Zealander coach Warren Gatland and got better and better. They demonstrated the value of pride, purpose and planning and drew last Saturday night's test and the series.

Sensibly, they sought tough games (it was not a so-called ``itinerary from hell'' for such a large and capable squad) and, despite players being at the end of a long season, they were battle-hardened and ready for the challenge. They, and the coach, learned from mistakes as the tour progressed.

Of course, they had more than their share of luck. Under pressure, the All Blacks made too many errors. The All Blacks lost key backs, while the absence of key injuries for the Lions was extraordinary. A bad All Black mistake left the Lions a man up in the second test, and the French referee lost the plot at the end of the last match.

But sport, as with life itself, overflows with ``what ifs''. So much can swing on one or two events or twists. That is just the way it is.

Think back on the history of New Zealand rugby and how easily the details of the Lions tours 1966, 1977, 1983, 1993 and 2005 (except perhaps the Dan Carter genius test in Wellington) slip into relative obscurity. In contrast, 1971, the Lions' only series win, is replayed and remembered so well. It left
a deep mark.

Similarly, while players and supporters were left flat by Saturday's draw, the series provided so much drama and so much that was unexpected. As the days, weeks and then years and decades advance, this tour increasingly will be recognised as extra special.

With just a little hindsight, the final test draw is becoming a result for the ages, creating memories for the ages. At the same time, the bungle by Romain Poite at the end of the match will come to lay another layer of interest, another talking point for 10, 20, 30 years ahead - just as referee Wayne Barnes remains a talking point from the 2007 World Cup All Black quarterfinal loss to France in Cardiff.

At the end of the test, the two captains held the trophy together and the players then mingled for what is usually the post-match winning photo. That was a fitting and distinctive end for a tour which has created lasting memories.


Is it generally accepted that the ref bungled? Just seems like typical ref blaming. Blaming, because, for all the bonhomie, diehards don't like a draw, either.