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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Never the same again
BBC Sport's Alastair Hignell reflects on Austin Healey's controversial comments in the aftermath of the third Test in Sydney.
Light the blue touch paper and stand well back.
The fireworks that lit up the third Test at Stadium Australia were spectacular enough. They were nowhere near as incendiary as the comments of Austin Healey.
The Leicester player, or Lippy the Lion as the Australian papers dubbed him, incensed the whole of Australia with comments printed in his Guardian diary in the UK on Friday and rehashed in the Australian press on match day.
Then he withdrew from the team with a back spasm.
No-one could have written a better motivational speech for the Wallabies.
They wanted to send coach Rod Macqueen into retirement with the best possible leaving present.
They wanted to mark Matt Burke's 50th appearance with something special.
But most of all they wanted to ram Healey's intemperate words down his throat, and that of any other Pom in Australia.
It is hard to imagine what Healey hoped to achieve with his over-the-top and gratuitously rude tirade.
Maybe he thought that the Wallabies would be so angry they would lose focus. Maybe he thought that in targeting him, they would take their eyes off the Lions' other danger men.
All he succeeded in doing was to bring down a barrel load of trouble onto the team-mates he was forced to watch from the stands. They won't have thanked him a bit.
Winning the third Test was always going to be a near-impossible task without Healey's comments.
His withdrawal on the morning of the match was just the latest in a long line of injuries that beset the Lions in their final week of practice.
At the beginning of it they lost Richard Hill and Rob Howley and feared that they would have to do without Jonny Wilkinson. In the course of it they had to train with nowhere near a full team.
Apart from Wilkinson, Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Henderson and Neil Back all missed at least one training session. Scott Quinnell didn't train at all, while Dafydd James only had one 20-minute run-out on the morning of the match.
The only good news in the whole of the week was the near-miraculous recovery of Wilkinson, although the England outside-half kicked gingerly throughout the match and unsurprisingly missed three kicks that in other circumstances he might have landed.
The Lions, in fact, did well to finish within six points of the world champions. Privately, coach Graham Henry was worried that, after surrendering the series initiative in the second Test, his patched-up team would be blown apart in the third.
In the end they were well beaten. Despite twice snatching the lead, with tries by Jason Robinson and Wilkinson, they never really escaped the Wallaby stranglehold.
Unforced errors in the line-out and the tackle area left them with a mountain to climb. Matt Burke's goalkicking made sure they stayed in the foothills.
Now they make the long and painful journey home. Few of them will be in the party when the Lions next tour, to New Zealand in 2005.
If Henry had his way there won't be another Lions tour like this. Henry accepts that there will never be an optimum time for such occasions, or for any matches between sides from the northern and southern hemispheres.
The Lions players are exhausted in June at the end of a long season. The Wallabies are at their peak now, but are tired in November when they take on home union sides close to their best.
And if Henry has his way, we may have seen the last of the midweek matches that have been such a feature of previous Lions tours.
He points out, with some truth, that on tour, coaches have only one day to prepare teams for these matches, which provide nothing more than irrelevant sideshows for the major attractions, the Test matches.
He feels that future tours might focus only on Saturdays, with three or at most four matches before the Test series begins.
Whether that recommendation is acted upon before 2005 remains to be seen.
What the 2001 tour has confirmed is the enormous pulling-power of the Lions and the dangers of allowing the players to rush into print with their tour secrets.
The former did enormous good to the economy of Australia and to the image of the game. The latter did enormous harm to the morale of the Lions and to the reputation of their players.
Life with the Lions will never be the same again.
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