Zach Mackey challenged rugby supporters to contemplate whether or not they cared for the Lion’s tour. Anyone who truly appreciates the game will answer with a resounding yes without thinking twice. Three record crowds in successive weeks for the tests and 7 tour matches saw 418,033 fans enjoy the only remaining true rugby tour, and that’s only those in attendance, not those in pubs adding to the festival atmosphere. Purchasing tickets was never in question for me. Anyone who loves the game would have gone to any lengths within their means to part of that tour, indeed I flew to Brisbane and still wasn’t satisfied so purchased tickets to the Sydney test off “Gumtree” for almost double their original value. Never have I witnessed atmosphere like that before.
In Brisbane there was red everywhere, as we walked the final two kilometres to the stadium we were caught in a sea of red. You literally could not hear or see anything other than lions supporters and cheers. The pubs that lined the street were overflowing. Once inside I honestly can’t explain to you the experience, words could not do it justice. I had goosebumps for two and a half hours and the test match itself was emotionally draining. With the injuries the Wallabies sustained, our first choice kicker going down, Michael Hooper having to play inside centre for 40 minutes, Israel Folau and finally Kurtley Beale’s missed penalty. The whole experience was an experience. It wasn’t just another game of footy or just another test match, it was a Lions tour! Any self-respecting rugby fan would have fully emerged themselves in that experience within the limits of reason. It’s not just the rugby, it’s the opportunity to share rugby traditions and to experience the passion these tourists bring with them.
To suggest an ANZAC tour while condemning the credibility of the Lion’s tour in light of this is absurd. The Australian fans were easily out done by our visitors in regards to passion and support. At both tests I attended, the Lion’s cries and cheers easily drowned out any hapless “Wallabies” or “Aussie Aussie Aussie” cheers. How do you expect these same fans to get up and fly half way around the world to support a team full of Kiwis. The passion of the Lions tour cannot be reproduced in this day and age.
To say the Australian public were left severely disappointed is honestly offensive. As I have already mentioned the first test was thoroughly enthralling. Round one of George North vs Israel Falou couldn’t have been better. Three exceptionally skilful tries that likely could have only been scored by these a handful of men. Round two wasn’t half bad either, with everyone left in awe after watching North carry the 103kg Falou on his back for almost 10 meters. While the second test may not have had the same fireworks as the first for the full 80 minutes, the finish was spectacular. Only one test match that I can remember compares to the intensity and the finish we witnessed in Melbourne, the final of the 2003 RWC. Never have I been so emotionally invested in a rugby test match. And if I were a Lion’s supporter the final test would have been the most beautiful display of rugby ever witnessed.
While Zach is right in pointing out that much of the point scoring was done by the boots of Halfpenny and Lealiifano, Beale and O’Connor, and that it wasn’t a try fest, this was test rugby. While many casual viewers won’t have the delicate eye needed to take in and appreciate the intricacies of the game that can turn a match in a team’s favour, for those that understand the game it was in no way, shape or form, boring.
Although I can appreciate that some people might have found the tour a strange and pointless affair, where some less than dazzling rugby was being played, I am disappointed the tour is over. I loved every minute of it from the naming of the Lions squad right through to trying to get smart with Lions great Jeremy Guscott and having him tell me to give my mum his best wishes. Indeed half the tour is about meeting the people, excluding Guscott, I found the tourists to be warm and if nothing else entertaining. And rather than gloating after their series victory they told their stories of heart break at their loss in 2001. They were remarkably gracious, certainly more gracious than I would have been. These exchanges made it so clear to me that it’s more than a game for these people, it is pure passion.
These were the most important test for the wallabies since the Rugby World Cup as Zach poignantly noted. And for me it has restored my passion for the game. The last Wallabies test I attended prior to the tour was the 2008 Bledisloe cup, and now I have my tickets for the August 17 test against the might of the All Blacks.