Tuesday, 2 July 2013

1989: Australia v Lions Third Test

Try as they might, in the run-up to the deciding Test the Lions could not escape the accusation that the tactics they had employed during the Battle of Ballymore had been over aggressive. The Australian press rounded on the tourists and they were not alone. Coach Bob Dwyer questioned some of the injuries received by his players (a total of 25 stitches in all), and captain Farr-Jones, although openly stating that he saw nothing untoward with the Lions methods, sounded a warning prior to the decider in Sydney: "To me, basically, it's open warfare. They've set the rules. They've set the standards. As far as I'm concerned, if the officials aren't going to control it, we're going to have to do something about it."

The Australian Rugby Union also got involved, holding a meeting on the eve of the final match, the outcome of this being three resolutions: 1) To openly condemn any foul play in rugby 2) To present video evidence to the boards of the four home unions, in the hope that they would take any necessary action against players which the ARU felt had overstepped the line 3) That the ARU members of the International Rugby Football Board would propose using video evidence in the future to punish players found guilty of any misdemeanours. The first point seemed, well pointless, as surely any board worth their name would not advocate violence, but the third point had merit, certainly in light of the citation boards that exist today.

Despite the barrage of criticism coming their way, the Lions did have some backers. Crucially, referee Rene Hourquet felt that the match in Brisbane had not been dirty: "Last week was not a violent game. It was very physical. If you can erase two painful moments, it was a match without problems". Lions manager Clive Rowlands too was conveniently ignoring the first 40 minutes of the match: "After watching the video the thing that strikes me is that in the second half of that particular match there's no hint of illegal action by either side".

At home, not all with a vested interest in the outcome of the series were shaking their heads disapprovingly, as a letter from a Mr JL Wall in The Times letter section indicated: "The only peace on such tours is when the Lions conform to stereotyped images of being jolly decent sports and first-class losers". Admittedly, an opinion given by a fan on either side of the equator wasn't likely to be the most impartial of views, but Mr Wall's correspondence certainly agreed with a point made by Ieuan Evans on Sky's 1989 And All That programme, that the team had been castigated for being rubbish and now for being too rough.

Both teams were unchanged from the second Test, although Evans (stomach upset), Calder (shin), Dooley (knee) and Teague (shoulder) did give the Lions management a few late concerns in training on the eve of the match. Thankfully all were passed fit, yet McGeechan had expressed a dissatisfaction with his squad for what he perceived as an almost demob happy feeling in the session, apparently heard shouting at his squad "If you want to go souvenir-buying now, you can. But we are going to come back to the training pitch this afternoon." The accusation stung the squad into action, and once the injury concerns had cleared, the day of destiny had arrived, as both teams named unchanged teams for the decider.


Martin, Williams, Maguire, Walker, Campese, Lynagh, Farr-Jones; Hartill, Lawton, Crowley, Campbell, Cutler, Gourley, Miller, Tuynman

G Hastings (S), Evans (W), S Hastings (S), Guscott (E), Underwood (E), Andrew (E), Jones (W); Sole (S), Moore (E), Young (W), Ackford (E), Dooley (E), Teague (E), Calder (S), Richards (E)

"A 2-1 series win will close a decade of British rugby not conspicuous for success and would bear witness to McGeechan's contention that the playing gulf between the two hemispheres is by no means as wide as many people think," wrote The Times' David Hands on the Friday, and as British fans awoke at 5.55am on Saturday to watch the live action, it was hard not to get a little ahead of the match and imagine just what an accomplishment a series win in Australia would be.

The tension was almost edible as the players appeared in front of the 39,401 crowd at the Sydney Football Stadium. An underlying feeling of trouble ahead was not helped early on, when once again Rob Jones and Nick Farr-Jones became involved in a scuffle, though in truth it was hardly violent, more a case of nervous energy being released. The disagreement had started when Farr-Jones held on to the ball after the Lions had been awarded a penalty, but Jones' actions backfired when he was penalised, and the Lions chance had gone. In a cat and mouse match, it looked as if neither team could afford to squander such opportunities.

At least Gavin Hastings, returned to kicking duties after a poor second Test, was back on form, his two penalties giving the Lions a 6-0 lead, and although Michael Lynagh would reduce the gap with his own penalty, another kick from the Scottish full back put the Lions 9-3 in front. However, for the third Test running, Australia would score the first try, a superb dummy from Lynagh giving Ian Williams the chance right on the stroke of half-time which Lynagh himself would convert. With just 40 minutes left, there was nothing separating the teams: one match all and 9-9. The teams were so evenly matched, that a moment of brilliance or madness looked like deciding the outcome. Step forward David Campese.

Michael Lynagh put Australia in front for the first time through his penalty at the start of the second half, yet the Lions advanced in search of an immediate response. From a scrum in a promising position, the ball was fed to Rob Andrew, who unusually fluffed his attempted drop goal, slicing the ball wide of the post, Lions fans groaning in unison as the ball ended up in the hands of David Campese.

Now the obvious and safe thing to do was to touch down for a 22-metre drop-out, but Campese had other ideas, moving forwards before throwing a poor pass to full back Greg Martin who, not surprisingly, was taken slightly unawares with the thought process of his team-mate. Martin spilled the pass, and as the ball touched the turf in the corner of the pitch now known as Campo's Corner, Ieuan Evans and Martin moved towards the ball, time seemingly standing still.

Evans pushed Martin, giving him an outside chance of getting to the loose ball first, as both men hit the ground and the ball simultaneously. Today the decision would go straight to the TMO, but back in 1989 Rene Hourquet did not have this luxury, so his decision to rule in favour of Evans is still talked about to this day. Even as a partisan Brit, the try does look a little questionable, but my opinion or that of Greg Martin's does not matter. What is indisputable though is that had Campese taken the sensible approach on that famous July day in 1989, then this debate would never have taken place. Such is the thin line between an undoubted rugby genius and madman that Campese was in his career.

Hastings missed the conversion, but two penalties gave the Lions a 19-12 lead with just a quarter of the match remaining. This series was never likely to drift off quietly though. Lynagh replied with two penalties of his own in the 71st and 74th minutes, and as the clock ticked down - very slowly if you were a Lions fan - just one point separated the teams (19-18), and visions of a last minute Australian winner began to flood my brain. Luckily I was spared any such nightmare becoming a reality, as come the end of the game it was the Lions in the ascendancy. With the Australian try line in sight, Hourquet brought an end to proceedings, and the Lions had completed their "coming back from the dead" series win, to quote Finlay Calder. The Lions had become the only team in the twentieth century to come from 1-0 down to win a series, and boy did it feel good.

Mike Teague was again a colossus in the final Test, and such was his impact that he was named man of the series, even though he missed the first Test due to injury. Each player could earn a maximum of 30 points per match in the scoring system used to decide the winner of the award, Teague's score of 48/60 highlighting his epic displays, as Lynagh (28) and Richards (25) finished second and third respectively. Richards role in the final Test was considerable too, but the whole pack of forwards played their part in the series finale, as did both Jones and Andrew who were tactically superb, their kicking game constantly turning the Australians, and relieving pressure.

For Australia, it wasn't hard to find a scapegoat for the defeat. Campese's horror moment was discussed with as much vigour as had previously been reserved for the Lions and their tactics after the first Test. At the time, co-commentator Chris Handy commented famously: "You don't wear a green and gold jersey to pull out that sort of Mickey Mouse rugby", and on returning to the dressing room Campese was abused by spectators and shunned by his team-mates.

The fallout would roll on for weeks, some suggesting that Campese be dropped from the team, leading Nick Farr-Jones to compose a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in support of his colleague: "Not only as captain of the national team, but as an Australian, it disturbs me to hear and read the constant and at times vilifying attacks by rugby followers and the press on one of our greatest sportsmen, David Campese. Campo’s blunder was careless and costly. But few of the Australian players would be satisfied with their performances, including myself."

Campese's gamble - there can be no doubting that had the move actually succeeded then the Lions may well have been stretched defensively - had unfortunately for him not paid off (a similar moment in the first half showed the method behind Campese's madness), but the vilification he received for his error was slightly worrying. When his brother Mario was attacked outside a pub by someone angry enough to punch an innocent man due to the actions of his famous sibling, then you do wonder if some people take these things a little too seriously, and that's coming from me.

That said, from a British perspective, the on-field incident was extremely funny, especially in the light of Campese's revenge in 1991 (on us English sports fans at least) and his subsequent constant barracking of anything British. The man himself did feature in this advert in Australia, suggesting that although the event at the time was distressing, as the years have elapsed, Campese must have developed a thick skin over his wayward pass. But at the time, reports of a proposed offer of £250K to play for the St. Helens rugby league team, must have seemed tempting.

For the Lions the tour did not stop in Sydney, the midweek side led expertly by Donal Lenihan taking on a New South Wales Country XV in Newcastle, with Tony Clement finally getting his first game since replacing Chris Oti on tour. In what turned out to be an exhibition match, the Lions ran out easy 72-13 winners, scoring a total of 14 tries, as Donal's Doughnuts finished their work in style. The midweek dirt-tracker team completed an unbeaten tour, their most important win undoubtedly the 41-25 comeback against ACT just a few days after the disastrous first Test. That it was seen as the pivotal moment of the 1989 Lions tour speaks volumes for the vital role Lenihan's side played down under.

The final match of the trip was against an Anzac XV, a representative side taken from both sides of the Tasman Sea. Alas, the team was hit by the withdrawal of eleven New Zealanders, but as the match progressed it looked as if a slightly patched-up Lions side would end the tour on a losing note. Trailing 15-13 with just seven minutes remaining, drop goals from Scots Craig Chalmers and Gavin Hastings edged the Lions to an excellent 19-15 win, absent skipper Calder - David Sole filling in for the match - praising his team for their professional approach.

Ultimately the 1989 Lions tour to Australia was judged as a raging success due to the series win against Australia, after all, it had been a full 15 years since a touring Lions team had won an international series. To come back from their first Test shellacking to win the series 2-1, is an achievement that should never be under-valued, a triumph for Messrs McGeechan, Uttley and Rowlands, and quite a turnaround for a heavily-burdened skipper in Finlay Calder. Some might say that the Australian team was in a state of transition, a work-in-progress that at the time was far from the World Cup winning side of 1991, but to beat any Australian team in their own backyard takes some doing.

That the very concept of the Lions was apparently under threat before the tour shows just how significant the success of the 1989 setup was, and to that extent a huge debt of gratitude should be owed to the '89 Lions, and a certain Ian McGeechan in particular. Joe French (President of ARU) summed up the general feeling surrounding the Lions 1989 tour: "It was the most successful tour ever to our country. There's no doubt the Lions must continue". From that day forth, the Lions gained a momentum which, although not always matched with on-field results, has gone from strength to strength, and gives us the excitement and anticipation felt during a Lions year that we witness today.

But the final word deserves to go to Ian McGeechan: "A Lions tour is the ultimate. It's the individual summit for a player". Such passion for the cause has never left McGeechan, his emotional attachment shown fully in the various tour documentaries made since 1989. His 1997 Lions triumph in South Africa may have been his high point, but to me I will always look back on that 1989 tour and thank Ian McGeechan for playing his part in the rebirth of the Lions.

No comments:

Post a Comment