x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Rugby union: British & Irish Lions push on past the provocation

The side from New South Wales preferred the cynical rather than outright violent approach this time around, says Paul Radley

Tom Croft of the Lions fends off Tom Kingston.
Tom Croft of the Lions fends off Tom Kingston.

A few years back, Bob Dwyer, the World Cup-winning Australia coach and IRB Hall of Famer, professed to being nonplussed as to why he had been invited to Dubai to address the Rugby Sevens Long Lunch.

"I don't quite know why they asked me," he said at the time. It did not seem like false modesty but he must have had a few clues. Setting aside his formidable CV, Dwyer is divisive, opinionated and worth a listen.

He went on to put the sport to rights, claiming Brian O'Driscoll was a selfish player and barely missed a chance to lampoon those from the northern hemisphere. Ideal after-dinner fare, then.

He has been at it again this week after his pronouncement that the 2013 British & Irish Lions are cheats.

Typically, he was entirely unambiguous in his views.

"It's not supposed to be a contest to see who can cheat the best, it's who can play the best," Dwyer was quoted as saying.

"You don't have to be smart to cheat. You just have to be a cheat."

Maybe he is losing his touch.

If he was trying to get a rise out of the Lions ahead of their meeting with New South Wales Waratahs, it did not work. Neither was it accurate on this evidence.

Nor did he sway match officials. The penalty given against Mako Vunipola for boring in on the angle at a 12th-minute scrum, just as the former Wallabies coach had specified in his pre-match decryption of the Lions, was his lone success.

Dwyer knows what cheating looks like, and that of the dangerous foul-play variety, too.

He was at the helm when the Waratahs, in the form of a brutal assault by Duncan McRae on Ronan O'Gara, started a war with the Lions on their last tour there in 2001.

Happily, the side from New South Wales preferred the cynical rather than outright violent approach this time around.

It turned out their methods were to annoy rather than physically damage.

As early as the third minute, Rob Horne, the centre, gave away points after a tip-tackle on Tom Youngs, the Lions hooker, that hardly carried much malice.

The only reaction it elicited from the touring side was a word from Sam Warburton, the Lions captain, whose own checkered history with tip-tackles includes a sending off in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

In the 25th minute the referee cautioned the Waratahs over a succession of late hits and interference on the Lions half-backs, Mike Phillips and Jonny Sexton.

The reputation of Phillips, a firebrand scrum-half, preceded him but he did not rise to the provocation.

Later, Simon Zebo just picked himself up and dusted himself off when he was dropped by an off-the-ball barge by John Ulugia, the Waratahs hooker.

When Paddy Ryan tried a similar ruse after Tom Croft had scored his try for the Lions, he just bounced off him.

With such watered down attempts at "going the biff" by the home side, these Lions were never likely to be distracted.

pradley@thenational.ae