Adrian O’Farrell suggests that it is time to digest all the rugby and clear the palate for next season in another exclusive article for the Supporters Club.
If the Lions series defeat appears to have been less traumatic for the Irish public than might have been the case previously, then there are good reasons for it.
Let’s face it, we’re stuffed. Not stuffed as in banjaxed, but stuffed as in hopelessly overfed.
One more wafer of rugby success and we’d explode just as surely and spectacularly as the fat man in the restaurant in Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life.’
Maybe it’s just as well. Had Ireland supplied the nucleus of a successful Lions tour of the reigning world champions on top of the Grand Slam, Heineken Cup, Magners League then let’s face it, the future would have been bleak.
Where would there be left to go? As it is, we can reflect on a tour that featured some outstanding displays by Irish players and a full contribution to the cause.
There is no question but that the Lions were a little unlucky to lose both the first two Tests, in particular the second Test. Ifs and buts aplenty, but ultimately the Lions got beat.
Ian McGeechan can be accused of getting some things wrong, including not making the harsh but necessary decision to haul Phil Vickery off 20 minutes earlier than he did.
Hindsight also shows he got some selections wrong for the first Test (though most commentators didn’t point this out at the time).
However, he deserves all the credit in the world for restoring the Lions to their true traditions after the wrong-headed experimentation that Sir Clive Woodward inflicted on them in New Zealand.
That the Lions stayed united even in defeat and in stark contrast to the previous two tours reflects great credit on the leadership of McGeechan, the coaches and especially Paul O’Connell and the senior players.
There was no carping from the sidelines from disaffected players such as Austin Healy or Matt Dawson (perhaps because the only English scrum half on this tour never really reached a point where he could be shafted).
What carping came from the English media in the general direction of Paul O’Connell and even that never really got a tailwind. The captain’s performance in the third Test in particular nailed that one completely.
Individually, several Irishmen took some major steps forward. Tommy Bowe maintained his upward trajectory and if he didn’t quite manage to decorate his outstanding pre-Test form with killer plays in the Test series, he was nevertheless positive both on the ball and in defence.
One of only three players to play in all three Tests, Bowe has travelled a massive distance in the last twelve months
The tyros did well overall. Rob Kearney came through in spades and it would have been an interesting call between him and the previously untouchable Lee Byrne had the latter been available throughout.
I do wonder if Kearney wasn’t suffering somewhat prior to his outbreak of mumps as his form dipped ahead of that untimely outbreak.
Luke Fitzgerald did brilliantly to get a Test start. He will be disappointed to have paid a price for his defensive error that enabled JP Pietersen to get in for a crucial try that got the ‘Boks back into the second Test.
However, both he and Kearney are now seasoned internationals at the highest level of the game as a result of this experience.
Keith Earls deserves great credit for coming back from a horror show start in the first ten minutes of the first match on tour.
If anything, he looked like the most incisive running back on the tour by the end of it and can consider himself unlucky not to make the bench for the last Test.
Despite his injury, Stephen Ferris has announced himself as a player on rugby’s world stage. What a pity it was that he didn’t get the chance to pit himself against Juan Smith.
Jamie Heaslip also announced himself on the broader world stage, particularly with his performance in the third Test.
For my money there was a touch of the sympathy vote in the award of man-of-the-match to Shane Williams in that match as I thought that the man from Naas was a shoe-in for his sustained work at the coalface and in the open.
If it was only for the benefit it gave to these five individuals alone, the tour would have been of massive importance to Irish rugby. When you add in the balance of the Irish tour party then the total payback to Irish rugby is incalculable.
If nothing else, it stokes the fires for November. If you take a look at the prospective Irish line-up come the autumn and compare it to the Lions Test fifteen then you would really have to ask which is the stronger unit?
A lineup of Kearney, Bowe, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy (Earls), Fitzgerald, O’Gara, O’Leary, Horan, Flannery, Hayes, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ferris, Wallace and Heaslip includes 10 players that featured in the Test squads, another that surely would have but for injury on tour in Ferris, another two that surely would have but for injury prior to the tour in Jerry Flannery and Tomas O’Leary and two other strong Lions squad players in Gordon D’Arcy and Keith Earls.
All in all, you’d have to feel sorry for Marcus Horan. On this line of form you’d also have to say that Ireland stands a decent chance of upsetting the odds in this one (against South Africa).
All the more so given that Schalk Burger would be back in action by then, just to stir the pot nicely.
Of course, it wasn’t all ginger beer and skittles, as the experience of Ronan O’Gara in the second Test demonstrated.
His was the kind of nightmarish turn of events that can break someone that isn’t mentally capable of overcoming.
Fortunately, our man is one of the first names you would put on a list of those best equipped to deal with it and I’d be very surprised if the salving balm of the Munster and Ireland jerseys don’t restore him to form fairly quickly.
So the season has been like a nine-course Victorian banquet and all we are left with now over the summer is the water-filled finger bowl with a slice of lemon.
And yet when I reflect on the various delicious delicacies and fine meats, there is a little considered morsel that stands out and makes me look forward to the next dining experience with lips salivating.
That was the Churchill Cup dissection of the England Saxons when we saw the up-and-coming talents on the horizon fillet a team unbeaten at that level in 13 previous games.
It’s time to build up the appetite again. Enjoy the summer.