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Miles Harrison: Living Room with the British and Irish Lions in 2021 part 3

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Sky Sports Rugby’s lead commentator Miles Harrison has had to step aside for the British and Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa following surgery for colon cancer. Below, he pens his third column for the tour: Living Room with the Lions.

Miles Harrison pens his third column for the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, as he recovers from surgery for colon cancer

Miles Harrison pens his third column for the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, as he recovers from surgery for colon cancer

In each and every British and Irish Lions tour that has been broadcasted live on Sky Sports since 1997, Miles Harrison has been lead commentator. 

His voice is synonymous with the Lions, their successes and failures. This year, Miles had to step aside for the tour to South Africa, however, as our dear colleague is recovering following surgery for colon cancer.

As such, rather than taking in the Lions tour of 2021 on the mic, Miles will be taking it in from his living room, and in the spirit of the Lions’ epic 1997 documentary Living with Lions, our own broadcasting great is contributing a column: Living Room with the Lions. Part 3 is below…

Bringing your ‘A’ game

In the first column of this series, I wrote about winning not being the ‘be all and end all’ in the early part of this Lions tour – performance being paramount. In the first three matches, when it came to the result, the Lions actually had very little to worry about.

The performances of the South African Lions and the Sharks were underwhelming and, crucially, with no Bulls fixture – meant to be the biggest provincial test – the tour had a very one-sided feel. So, the match against South Africa ‘A’ assumed even greater significance and, boy, did it deliver!

Sky Sports Highlights as British and Irish Lions fell to their first defeat of the tour against a strong South Africa ‘A’ side in Cape Town

In the build-up there was a lot made of the so-called ‘mind games’ between Rassie Erasmus and Warren Gatland, however, in the final analysis, the match was just what both coaches would have wanted. The Lions were thoroughly tested to the point that they lost but, by and large, as the game went on, they also got key answers to some main questions.

The consequence is that the Lions management will now find themselves going into this weekend in a much better place, despite defeat.

The Sky Sports studio picked up on perhaps the biggest ‘work on’: the breakdown. The Lions know they have to sort this, to not only protect the ball, but to give themselves the quick ball that will enable them to play a game to beat the Boks.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland will have been left with much to ponder following defeat, but also having learnt a lot Lions head coach Warren Gatland will have been left with much to ponder following defeat, but also having learnt a lot

To win the series, you feel that at some point the Lions must go wide and use what will be a high-quality back three to stretch the hosts. Cheslin Kolbe is a genius but the Lions have claws too and they will be required if they are to gain enough points to triumph over a champion team that is pretty relentless once it gets its Springbok nose in front.

Another takeaway from Wednesday night was the confirmation that this is going to be a brutal series and injuries will occur. Therefore, those not selected for the first test shouldn’t think they are just holding tackle bags for that final fortnight – anything but.

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A man more than ready for the confrontation is Maro Itoje. Brilliant once again, he summed it all up post-match when he could hardly hide his delight, knowing how much that game, albeit a loss, had done for the squad.

Sky Sports Maro Itoje said the loss to South Africa ‘A’ was a brilliant lesson for the side

Glorious Cape

The Lions, now staying in the Cape, meet the Stormers this weekend. I have adored the region ever since I first set foot there back in the mid-1990s.

And, you have to go back to 1997 for the last time the Lions played a Test match in the famous city. In those days, Newlands was the venue, a ground steeped in history. Nowadays, the magnificent modern structure in Green Point is where South Africa find themselves.

Cape Town Stadium is the venue where the Lions played on Wednesday, and where they will play the next few games Cape Town Stadium is the venue where the Lions played on Wednesday, and where they will play the next few games

It is one of the biggest regrets of this tour that the fans have been denied being part of making the days at South Africa’s new sporting citadels in Cape Town and Johannesburg into some of the greatest occasions rugby would have ever known.

Going back in time, I fondly recall at the end of the Test in ’97, after the Lions went 1-0 up in the series, the azure blue skies of the day turning to dark grey ones.

Almost right on cue, the heavens opened as we surveyed the now empty ground enjoying a can of the sponsor’s product with a braais huddling underneath the shelter of the overhanging roof of the stand. I remember thinking that this was as close to rugby heaven as it got.

Centre stage

No crowds for these 2021 games but with the Euros and Wimbledon done and the Open golf happening this week, the Lions are very much moving to front and centre of the sporting stage.

Sky Sports Episode 5 of The British & Irish Lions weekly series which gives a unique behind the scenes insight into life in camp.

The Six Nations is built on a sense of occasion but, earlier this year, managed to show the rest of the sporting world just how rugby can be a wonderful game to watch even if nobody is there to see it.

The Lions and South Africa can do the same over the coming weeks.

Sky Sports Former Lion Jason Robinson says Wednesday’s defeat to South Africa ‘A’ will do Warren Gatland’s Lions the world of good

Seeing red

Talking about the Euros…when Giorgio Chiellini fouled Bukayo Saka in the Wembley Final, I was reminded of something that I have always thought – a rugby tackle in football should be a straight red card and a football tackle in rugby, that is a trip, should have the same punishment.

No ifs, no buts. There should be no yellow card cop outs for cheap ‘yellow’ shots.

Enjoy the weekend’s action and revel in the fact that this is the last time we will feel genuinely relaxed before the Test series – imagine how tense it will be this time next week!

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