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  Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 07:33 GMT 08:33 UK
Sporting overload down under
The Lions fans gather outside the stadium in Melbourne
The Lions fans have won plenty of admirers in Australia
By the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney

It was a weekend when Australia came close to having more sporting success than even it could handle.

The Lions had been crushed in Melbourne, England's cricketers were blown away at Edgbaston and Pat Rafter was a win away from the ultimate prize at Wimbledon after beating Andre Agassi.

One Sydney tabloid proclaimed last Sunday as "Australia Day", splashing pictures of Steve Waugh on his way to an Ashes century, John Eales snuffing out another Lions attack and Rafter celebrating his semi-final victory.

A week ago the press had savaged the Australian rugby team for being outgunned by the Lions.

It was a pathetic performance, cried the newspapers - and one not worthy of great green and gold.

It was an embarrassment to a nation where sporting success is revered above that of academic or commercial enterprise.


The most forbidding of beasts was reduced to an injury-riddled, self-doubting rabble
Sydney Morning Herald
Had Rafter beaten Ivanisevic, Australia's sporting dream would have been complete.

The euphoria of a cricket, rugby and tennis treble would have equalled that of the Olympics of last year.

The fall of Australia's favourite sporting son dominates the front pages: "Heartbreak as Rafter's dream turns to Ashes," says one paper.

Joyously received

Victory over the Lions on Saturday is now essential to help the Aussies recover from their Wimbledon hangover and re-assert their sporting superiority.

The record breaking win over the Lions in Melbourne was joyously received here.

"Wallabies feast as giants turn to jelly" shouted a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald.

It read: "The most forbidding of beasts was reduced to an injury-riddled, self-doubting rabble that will struggle to get itself into one piece before the weekend."

Pat Rafter stretches for a low shot against Goran Ivanisevic
The Aussies didn't quite have it all their own way
The old Aussie swagger was back, just as it had been before the defeat in the first game at the Gabba.

"Losing the decider in Sydney is no longer an option the rugby writers here are contemplating; "Everything is pointing towards a Wallaby victory in the third Test."

The legions of Lions supporters continue to cause amazement here. Their passion is unbridled and their commitment to the team total.

A columnist in Sydney's Daily Telegraph said the sight of the Red Army pouring into Melbourne's Colonial Stadium will live long in the memory: "It was the great British fighting spirit incarnate.

"From Boadicea to Bugner, from Prince Harry to Prince Naseem. The jackboot poised. The Lions fans, even in defeat, did themselves nothing but credit and finally prompted the us into appropriate voice."

Camped out

An expectant 69,000 crowd will witness Saturday's showdown at Stadium Australia at Homebush Bay in Sydney. The last remaining seats went on sale last week.

Hundreds of fans camped out for the night outside ticket outlets across the city. Most went home tired and disappointed.

The final allocation was snapped up in minutes. It promises to be a good weekend for the touts.


Outside the Stadium there is the silence of the Lions
Sydney Morning Herald
The Red tide has begun arriving in Sydney for the final stop-over on its Lions adventure. The jubilation of last week has been replaced by a nervous excitement.

It all comes down to one game. Will the battered Lions regroup in time? Will Jonny Wilkinson recover? Can the Wallaby comeback continue?

Most of the Lions fans will arrive back home next week just in time for the start of the second Test in an increasingly predictable Ashes series that even most Australians will not stay up to watch.

The British fans will be missed because they care so much. An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald said the Lions defeat had never had such an effect on a group of supporters.

"Outside the Stadium there is the silence of the Lions," it went.

"Grim-faced supporters plod back to the city. One middle-aged couple dressed totally in red and holding onto each other tightly, have the glazed look of people who have just been robbed of all their most precious possessions."


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See also:

08 Jul 01 | The Ashes
09 Jul 01 | Wimbledon 2001
07 Jul 01 | Lions Down Under
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