Guest blog by Eilidh Donaldson, a sport publisher and fan on the Lions tour.
I came. I saw. They lost. I left.
This is how many of the 57,000 fans at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium might describe the Second Test experience on the Lions Tour. Well, those wearing red at least.
I’d boarded a plane to follow the Lions to Oz for my great adventure just over a week ago.
Although travelling solo, I was far from alone as there were an estimated 30,000-strong army of Lions fans descending on the far corner of the
Commonwealth to experience this *once in a lifetime event. (*Only if you have a 12-year lifespan).
Like the Ryder Cup in golf, the Lions Tours aim to grow the game but with three tour defeats on the trot, you would think the event would be less appealing given the distance and costs involved.
Not so, based on what I have seen.
Devotion to rugby clearly has no price limit or maximum radius.
I spent time in Sydney ahead of the Melbourne game to get used to life upside down.
I am aware you aren’t actually standing on your head, it’s just that after a whole day on a plane it can feel like that.
The sports news this side of the world was filled with their Aussie Rules Football which is struggling with a drugs admission by a top player and the State of Origin Rugby League clash (think like a Tigers v Saints triple-header).
There was little mention of the Lions clash – perhaps because of the result in the first game or due to its place in the pecking order of Aussie sport – something which a win for the Green and Gold would go a long way to changing.
Ahead of the game my ‘water’ was telling me the Lions weren’t going to win. This wasn’t Celtic glass half-empty mentality, I’d been cautious of the ‘under cooked’ Wallabies coverage in the media and the ease with which the Lions had progressed to this point in build-up games.
The locals sung “Advance Australia Fair’ with vigour.
A song sheet distributed to the crowds included the four Lions nation’s anthems and during the game and there were a few bursts of Flower of Scotland, an impressive Swing Low Sweet Chariots and a Welsh rendition of Land of my Fathers during one of Leigh Halfpenny’s kicks.
However Ireland chipped in with the best song of the night, ‘Tommy, Tommy Bowe’ sung to the tune of Daddy Cool by Boney M.
It probably said a lot about the age of the crowd and me – but it did rock.
Close games don’t always make classics and game two was a sloppy and frustrating encounter at times, interspersed with penalty kicks.
I suffered a bad case of squeaky bum throughout, wishing for more flowing play but at the same time watching the score board ticking over.
A few Sexton breaks and of course George North ‘backpacking’ Israel Folau were highlights but the Lions never really clicked and we were heading for defeat.
And then, with the 80 minutes up, a penalty.
Step forward Leigh ‘You Little Ripper’ Halfpenny. Surely one of the stars of the Tour, the result now rested on his shoulders. Silence in the Stadium, you do actually hold your breath at moments like these.
His first kick of the night had been short and so it proved with the final shot too. All was now officially lost.
It was my birthday the day after and I felt that I had aged just watching the game.
I consoled myself that we had lost the game but not the tour.
Hopefully the cards have Halfpenny doing a ‘Jonny’ in Sydney to take the Tour win.
Unfortunately I won’t be there to see it, mine was a one-match trip and my time as part of the Pride is over.
For all the positives of the experience of which there were many, I will add one negative footnote.
While I do not view the players as performing seals at my beck and call, I would have liked to have seen the Lions do a lap of the field to thank the fans for their support.
Yes the loss was disappointing but they would not have been booed and I feel the fans could have given something back to the players to take with them to Sydney.
For a nation that is known for its love of sport, and is on occasion quite good at it, there are no better hosts for what is set to be a classic clash of North v South.