2013 Lions Tour - The winners and losers
July 8, 2013
Will Warren Gatland be back in the Lions' hotseat in 2017?
© Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions returned to winning ways in spectacular fashion with a 41-16 mauling of Australia in their series-deciding clash in Sydney on Saturday night.
The Lions' thrilling victory brought the curtain down on an enthralling 10-game tour that proved fruitful for some and costly for others. Here we offer our take on the winners and losers...
A tour to remember for...
Lions head coach Warren Gatland endured a difficult few weeks during which time injuries threatened to scupper his plans and controversy surrounding his selection policy caused him to doubt himself - but crucially he was vindicated by his side's victory in the series-deciding third Test. His CV now boasts a victorious Lions tour, Six Nations Grand Slams, Heineken Cup glory and Premiership titles and further success could come at a World Cup where Wales have a significant 'home' advantage. He has expressed an interest in steering the Lions to New Zealand in 2017 and World Cup success would certainly make him favourite to return to the role - but his current Welsh Rugby Union contract does not stretch that far and their rivals may well be interested in his services.
Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny was in simply sensational form throughout the tour with his kicking exploits and game-breaking ability key elements of the tourists' armoury. Following his equally influential heroics during Wales' Six Nations title-winning campaign, his market value is at an all-time high just as he is about to embark on the final season of his current contract with the Cardiff Blues. Halfpenny can surely name his prices and only time will tell if the Blues' coffers - recently bolstered by fresh financial input from the Welsh Rugby Union for the "development, recruitment and retention of Welsh players" - will stretch to his asking price - especially with a certain Sam Warburton also coming off contract at the same time. It seems inevitable that one of maybe even both will be the latest Welsh stars to be lured across the Channel by the riches on offer in France's Top 14.
The Australian Rugby Union made the most of their rare opportunity to share a stage with the Lions. An enthusiastic marketing campaign lured record crowds to Brisbane (52,499), Melbourne (56,771) and Sydney (83,702) with those royally-entertained crowds contributing to a record tour attendance of 389,400 and boosted the ARU's depleted bank balance. More importantly, the Tests have attracted big TV audiences for terrestrial broadcaster Ten Network with pay-TV rival Fox Sports having sold on the free-to-air rights. Rugby's ratings have suffered of late with previous free-to-air broadcaster Channel 9 favouring rival codes when there was a clash in scheduling but the sport appears to have turned a corner with the bumper figures for the Lions tour. Australian rugby may have come up short on the field but the visit of the Lions got turnstiles spinning like never before and their mere presence helped them wrestle some priceless column inches back from their sporting rivals and claim some priceless exposure across all media.
The Lions rediscover their bite
Three successive series defeats against the southern hemisphere giants had many casting doubt on the future of the Lions with others suggesting it is perhaps time for them to align with the rest of the continent and become the 'European Lions'. Another series defeat would have made it four-in-a-row for the first time ever and while the lure of the Lions has remained remarkably powerful despite their lack of success there would be increased concerns about the long-term future of the side. The supporters - an estimated 40,000 of them - did their best to allay those fears and so did the players with a priceless victory over the Wallabies that will fuel expectation in the next four years and whet the appetite of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand ahead of talks to finalise the tour schedule post-2017.
While the Lions may have filled the stadiums around the country it was a Wallabies player who got the Australian fans up out of their seats - Israel Folau. The former rugby league star and ex-AFL player has gone a long way to delivering on his potential in recent weeks with a two-try performance in the first Test in Brisbane a delight to behold. Injury robbed him of the chance to play a decisive role in the series decider but his pace, vision and all-round ability hint at a brighter future for both him and the Wallabies. The Australian Rugby Union now just need to tie him down to a long-term contract.
A tour for forget for...
Dingo Deans is gone
Australian rugby's stock may be on the rise but the same cannot be said of Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. As close as his side may have come to a series victory - who could forgot Kurtley Beale's first Test slip - the record books will show Deans' side came up short and he has paid a heavy price. His decision to wrap his leading players in cotton wool and deny them exposure to the Lions in the warm-up games did not pay dividends while high-profile indiscipline from his players continued to plague his best efforts to get the better of the Lions. His current deal with the Australian Rugby Union was set to run until the end of the year but he has been released from his contract with Ewen McKenzie set to step in.
Amid all the jubilation at the Lions' long-awaited success, it is easy to forget that the tour did not get off on the best foot. Obscenely high temperatures and draining humidity greeted them in Hong Kong for an ill-advised tour opener that we are told had nothing to do with the fact it was a key territory for their main sponsors. Further flak would greet them in Australia where fans who had paid a fortune to follow the side to the other side of the world were treated to the sight of their side taking on under-strength opposition. The current tour schedule has one more tour to run in New Zealand in 2017 and any future agreement with SANZAR must come with assurances about the strength of the opposition.
Wallabies captain James Horwill will not remember the past six weeks that fondly having not only failed to inspire his side to victory against the Lions but also been dragged through a lengthy disciplinary process that saw his credibility questioned. The lock was found not guilty of stamping on his Lions counterpart Alun Wyn Jones - although his clumsy footwork left the Welshman requiring stitches in an eye injury - but had to face another hearing after the International Rugby Board opted to intervene. The rollercoaster of emotion was evident in the wake of his side's second Test triumph when delight soon turned to tears - but his once-in-a-lifetime shot at the Lions would not end well with his side
'Idiotic Rugby Board'?
The International Rugby Board did not cover themselves in glory during the Lions tour to the point one Australian newspaper labelled them the 'Idiotic Rugby Board'. The appointment of New Zealand referee Chris Pollock for the first Test baffled many including Lions coach Warren Gatland who questioned whether the Kiwi official had the required experience to take charge of a such a game having taken charge of just 11 Tests to that point. And they courted more trouble with their unprecedented appeal against the decision by an independent disciplinary hearing to clear Australia captain James Horwill of stamping on Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones - the appeal hearing found nothing wrong with the first ruling.
James O'Connor was finally given a run in the Wallabies' No.10 shirt and while he may have notched a couple of tries, he failed to spark his much-vaunted back line into life. His shortcomings heaped further woe on under-fire coach Robbie Deans, who chose to leave the talented Quade Cooper on the sidelines, and O'Connor did not help his own cause or reputation by being photographed in a fast food joint with team-mate Kurtley Beale at 4am just four days before the must-win second Test. The dust was only just settling on the Wallabies defeat when O'Connor was informed that the Rebels had no interest in re-signing him at the end of the season
It was a tour to forget for now former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and fly-half James O'Connor © Getty Images
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter