Lions – End of Tour Awards

It is hard to believe that it is all over. Lions tours are a steady four year tide of build up that comes crashing though as a giant six week wave of euphoria before disappearing in the blink of an eye as soon as the last final whistle blows.

There are some moments though that will live long in the memory, and some that are perhaps best left to wash away with that retreating wave. In an effort to keep that tour spirit going we bring you our tour summary:

Try of the Tour:

A pretty easy one this, though there were a fair few crackers including all four in the 3rd Test. Brian O’Driscoll’s try against Western Force after Manu Tuilagi’s midfield bulldozing was a joy to watch as was Sean Maitland’s against the Melbourne Rebels and Alex Cuthbert’s in the first Test.

Tom Croft’s effort against the Waratahs was utterly magnificent and encapsulated in one swift movement what sets him apart from any other back row player in the world.

However there can only be one winner; George North’s spectacular solo try in the 1st Test. That try will be remembered as one of the great Lions tries of all time, up there with Brian O’Driscoll in 2001 at the Gabba and John Bentley’s in 1997 in Gauteng.

It had everything, pace, power, finesse, drama. It was simply staggering.

Player of the Tour:

Not as simple as it might appear this one. Jonathan Davies had a sublime tour, though playing out of position in the first two Tests cost him a bit, while Tom Youngs showed that he is no longer a hooker who used to play centre. He is just a hooker, and a mighty good one at that.

Dan Lydiate showed exactly why Warren Gatland showed so much faith in him despite his lack of game time this season. While he may not appear to do much to the untrained eye but he is the sort of guy that his teammates love to play alongside because he just makes their lives so much easier, in many ways he is similar to Richard Hill and there is really no bigger compliment than that.

Alun Wyn Jones was excellent all tour but in the final Test he went beyond even that, he was a colossus. He will be 31 in 2017 and if he is fit he will surely now feature highly in any captaincy debate.

Adam Jones went about his business quietly and effectively as usual and is a player that without whom the Lions would have found the series even more challenging. Alex Corbisiero was also a star, plucked from England’s tour of Argentina as an injury replacement he forced his way into the Test team and became one of the most important players in the team and was Warren Gatland’s man of the match in the final Test.

Ultimately though there are two players who operated on another level altogether, George North and Leigh Halfpenny. Both were excellent in the build up games but it was in the Test series that they really showed their worth. It is possible to make a case that Rob Kearney and Stuart Hogg are better natural footballers than Leigh Halfpenny but nobody could argue that he did not deserve his place.

He is utterly reliable in every aspect of his play, his goal kicking is sublime beyond words, whilst his positioning (possibly the most underrated skill in rugby) is impeccable. It is hard to remember a time in the series that Australia found any space with a kick. It was fitting too to see him demonstrate his skills with the ball in hand when unleashing North and Sexton in the 3rd Test.

North meanwhile has let the world know what we in the Northern Hemisphere already knew – he is a world class winger. In every Test he made a contribution that will be remembered forever in Lions history, his try in the first, his superhuman carry in the second when he took Israel Folau with him, and his try and tackle on Folau in the thid.

In the end though the Player of the Tour goes to Leigh Halfpenny, having him at the back and the knowledge that any penalty would be punished allowed the Lions the freedom to play in that third Test, whilst in the other two it was only his boot that meant they were able to be in contention. Not bad for a shy former winger.

Coach of the Tour:

Neil Jenkins’ work with his kickers was outstanding, their sheer reliability was perhaps the major factor in the tour. Andy Farrell’s defence turned out to be pretty decent after some early criticism, something that could also be said of Rob Howley’s attack, while Graham Rowntree’s forwards were as tough as old boots as you might expect.

The Coach of the Tour has to go to Warren Gatland though, across the country and indeed on this website he was heavily criticised ahead of the 3rd Test for his selection. However Gatland knew his mind and had a gameplan he believed in and he was right. That he had the confidence to go for it in the face of what he knew would be serious criticism deserve the utmost respect. A fantastic job and a great advert for following your convictions.

Shock selection of the Tour:

Omitting Brian O’Driscoll from the final Test was right up there in the list of selections that shook the world, as was the inclusion of the internationally retired Matt Stevens at the start of the tour.

Tom Court’s timely visit to his family in Brisbane created a bit of a stir when he became the latest emergency replacement (showing the value of holidaying near the Lions!), however there can only be one winner of the Shock selection of the Tour, Shane Williams. Williams came in for just three days and one match. The Lions lost the game but now that the series is won we can look back on that and smile as we remember the day that Shane Williams became a Lion again.

Tackle of the Tour:

Another hotly contested award, any of Dan Lydiate’s famous chop tackles could be inserted here, while Leigh Halfpenny’s tackle on a clear Kurtley Beale in the first Test was overlooked by many yet vital.

George North’s hit on Israel Folau in the 3rd was a cracker and only served to underline the impression that North had every intention on this tour of physically and mentally overwhelming the Wallaby star.

For its sheer importance and significance though, the Tackle of the Tour goes to Geoff Parling for his tap tackle on Jesse Mogg in the 3rd Test. Australia were coming back into the game at that point and had Mogg scored then the momentum would have been all Australia’s. Parling will be able to dine out on that tackle for years to come.

Surprise package of the Tour:

Alex Corbisiero is probably the standout candidate here after coming into the tour as an injury replacement and ending up as one of the stars of the Test team. Tom Youngs perhaps also fits into this category, we knew he was good but perhaps nobody new he was just this good.

Sean Maitland surprised a few with the quality of his performances, while Geoff Parling grew into one of the most important leaders in the group. Jonathan Davies was already a player of immense quality but he was the best centre on tour, an accolade few would have predicted beforehand.

In our view though Conor Murray was the Surprise package of the Tour, he came along as very much the third choice scrum half but ended it as very much the most in form of the lot. Bizarrely he was fairly average in the midweek games but he seemed to thrive in the Test environment. If there had been a fouth test he would have started it.

Oppostion Player of the Tour:

Will Genia and Israel Folau both showed world class touches at times and Genia is a world class player without any shadow of a doubt.

Kurtley Beale also played fantastically well at times and his on field efforts did not deserve for his slip of the foot in the First test to be so decisive.

James Horwill was excellent, his stamp on Alun Wyn Jones may have been ugly but nobody can argue that Horwill is not a player of great substance and dignity.

However our Opposition Player of the Tour is Ben Mowen. Mowen shackled Mike Phillips brilliantly and also be Youngs in the second Test and his workrate was immense. He also ran the Wallaby lineout and plundered the Lions’ to great effect on what were, let us not forget, his first three caps for the Wallabies. Quite a start.

Angry Lions Fan Award:

Several contenders for this, first of all there is Brian O’Driscoll’s omission from the final Test, it may have been vindicated buy it still upset many.

The Lions trip to Hong Kong was perhaps not the best way to build up to a Test series. Our editor was there though so best not to complain too much!

The complete failure to find James Horwill guilty of stamping was, and is, a mystery and would still be being hotly debated right now had the Lions not won the series.

Chris Pollock’s refereeing of the breakdown in the First Test was a joke. The breakdown is supposed to be a contest and good defensive play should be just as well rewarded as good attacking play. Rugby is not basketball with end to end scoring, it is a game of subtleties and intricacies and the breakdown is one such area. The breakdown is not simply a platform for the attacking team to launch their next phase of attack.

There can only be one winner of the award though and the Angry Lions Fan Award goes to Western Force. Their decision to field such a severely weakened side was ridiculous and still seems almost impossible to justify. The Lions committee have long memories though and with any luck Western Force will be denied the opportunity to play against the Lions in 12 years time. Their fans do not deserve that but the club does unfortunately.

Unsung hero of the Tour:

Only one person for this award, Dr James Robson. The rest of his team also deserve enormous credit but Robson was the orchestrator and is the multi-touring legend. Without him and his team the Lions would surely have lost the series. Their work to get Jamie Roberts, Alex Corbisiero, George North, Tommy Bowe, Manu Tuilagi and many unnamed others fit to play was quite outstanding and their value must never be forgotten.

Lion of the Tour:

Robson again comes close in this one, his passion for the Lions is immense and the image of him charging down the touchline alongside North as he crossed for his try in the 1st Test encapsulated it perfectly.

Brian O’Driscoll was also a majestic Lion, not just for his 12 years of service or his on field play or even his off field attitude and rallying, no, his true moment as a Lion came in his reaction to being dropped – offering Jamie Roberts help with any preparations for the 3rd Test, Jason Leonard would have been proud.

Paul O’Connell and Sam Warburton were also majestic, while Tom Youngs was a revelation. Alun Wyn Jones’ performance as captain on Saturday was nothing short of inspiring.

Perhaps surprisingly though, our Lion of the Tour is Stuart Hogg, not only did he have to deal with carrying around a mascot that triggered his allergies all tour (!), Hogg departed knowing that a Test spot was highly unlikely given that in Rob Kearney and Leigh Halfpenny he had two world class full backs ahead of him.

That he was then asked to play fly half twice too could have really put a sour twist on his mood, however Hogg embraced the challenge and performed admirably in tough circumstances without once complaining. Furthermore he was, by all accounts, one of the real off field stars, mixing well early on and always ready for a joke or two.

All of that at just 20 years of age (he celebrated his 21st a few days after the 1st test), he is a man of remarkable maturity and a player of the utmost quality. By 2017 he could be quite something.

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