Monthly Archives: June 2013
There are many reasons why you go to watch sport. There’s the atmosphere generated by the crowd, the pure theatre generated by the match and then there’s the social aspect. International rugby is the pinnacle of this combination, and it is safe to say, that after witnessing my first International Test match at the age of 13 I have been hooked. That afternoon, Wales lost to France by a point in the Grand Slam decider. I stood on an overly packed West Lower stand in the “old” National Stadium (more commonly referred to, incorrectly, as Cardiff Arms Park) where I could hardly see any of the game itself, but that didn’t matter. The banter, the singing, the roar of the crowd when Ieuan Evans scored the try that nearly got us the Grand Slam all live long in my memory. That feeling of pure euphoria I experienced that day I have carried with me ever since; 26 years and 62 International Matches later I am in Brisbane for the first Test of a 3 match series.
The British & Irish Lions games are unbelievably special. Prior to 1997, it was quite rare to have met anyone that had actually seen the Lions play in the flesh. For many British sports fans it was a bucket list item that featured very prominently. The 2001 Australian tour was an eye opener for me. It confirmed that a Lions trip is the ultimate supporter’s tour. With our ever shrinking world, it has certainly become more accessible and more affordable to be able to achieve this once unassailable dream. In 2001, it was estimated that over 40,000 people descended on Australia for the tour itself. With the Australian dollar being so strong, coupled with an extended period of recession in the UK, those numbers are unlikely to be bettered, but it still says something about the draw of the Lions when you have to waver at “unlikely”!
Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium is as close to recreating the Cardiff experience, as you could get. The stadium is close to the city centre, and you get to the ground via Caxton Street – a 400 yard strip full of pubs and restaurants, not that there is much interest in eating on days like this!!! Even at 3pm – 5 hours until kickoff – the area is packed full of Lions fans, and it grows steadily until every pub is full to bursting, until that last hour before kickoff, when everyone files out to the ground down the hill.
As you get into the stadium, the magnitude of the event hits you. The stadium officially holds 52,500. The crowd was announced as 52,499!!!! In 2001 the Aussies were blown away when their home stadiums turned red under the deluge of Lions fans. The gold was in better shape this time round, courtesy of 20,000 silly hats provided by a sponsor, but still the prevalence of the red of the Lions fans marginally outweighed the home supporters, mainly in the cheap seats though!
The game itself took a while to get going, as the players felt their way out. Australia scored a length of the field try, when triple sport sensation Folau finished off a length of the field move for the first of his two sensational tries on his International debut. The Lions kicked a penalty soon after to reduce the deficit, but minutes later, this……
I think the best image is at 1:11 of this clip. When the Aussie that misses the tackle looks up to realise that North is going to score and the head drops. North is a fine specimen of a man. If there ever was a prototype rugby union back, it is this man. Only 21, 6ft 4, 110kgs (230lbs), great pace and agility with quick feet – an awesome combination. I’m just glad he’s Welsh!!! Not long after North was in again in the corner.
However, this time it was adjudged that he was in touch so it was disallowed. Half time saw the teams only separated by a point. The second half seemed to fly by. The Welsh winger Cuthbert scored a cracker of a try early in the second half, but after that, all the subsequent points scored were kicks.
Down by 2 points late on, Australia were awarded a penalty with only around 100 seconds to go, I feared the worst. I have suffered for years watching them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on a number of occasions – more often than not against Wales. You just know that the Aussies will somehow find a way to win, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. And this time was no different.
You cant quite see what happened when he kicked it on that video….. but you can here!!!!
It was a brutal match. The Aussies were unlucky with injuries and it would have been a remarkable win considering. Lealiifano was stretchered off after only 48 seconds of his debut match. His replacement (McCabe) was also injured and replaced. McCabe’s replacement also got injured and Australia ended up with a scrum half on the wing, as the winger (Ioane) had to play in the centre paired up with a forward as they were out of resources – and guess what – Ioane ended up injured as well!!! The Wallabies missed a number of crucial kicks at goal which in the end proved costly. The Lions were more clinical, but all in all there was less than fag paper between them. All I can say is roll on Melbourne!
I got this sent to me by an Australian mate of mine (yes I do have them!) who seemed to point to a selection issue as the Wallabies failure:
Who are the four players that let the Wallabies Down:
3) JOC (James O’Connor)
4) Kurtly Beale
1) Barnes hardly played any rugby and was half injured, yet selected.
2) McCabe hardly played any rugby and was half injured, yet selected.
3) JOC hardly played any rugby and was half injured, yet selected.
4) Kurtly Beale hardly played any rugby and was half drunk, yet selected.
The only blight on the game was the despicable action of the Australian captain, who less than 3 minutes into the game, managed to get away with this….
It’s a weak act to “trample” on a defenseless person’s face, so close to the eyes. He got off as the judiciary could not prove the act was deliberate. In the end no real harm was done, but that is besides the point. I just hope the Lions do not go out to seek retribution of their own next time round.
AUSTRALIA 21 – 23 BRITISH LIONS
Outside of the match; when you have a full day of drinking and merriment, and you forget to eat, there are inevitably some casualties. As the night progressed……
At 2.00am, we were left to get one of our own back to base camp. Luckily the only bodily function he had control of was his legs, so off we trekked, Weekend at Bernie’s style…… 45 minutes and 500 metres later, we ended up at McDonalds!!!!
It’s okay, he was fine next day, well, next evening…….
Guess what though? – no doubt we will do it all again next week in Melbourne…. and then the week after that in Sydney too!!! I love the Lions tours……
As you may have guessed by now, I love my music a bit harder and edgier than your average “middle-of-the-roader”. The Gaslight Anthem are perhaps not quite as raw and “punk rock” as they used to be, but all the same, they put on a solidly brilliant rock show. They boast the classic rock 5 piece set-up – 4 guitars and a drummer, and their heavy rift driven tunes are timeless!
They had to do 2 gigs in Melbourne due to their recent burgeoning popularity. The latest single has moved them from the alternative and cult status into mainstream rock radio airplay – and why not? It’s a very popular genre you know! Muchly associated with being “heavier versions of Bruce Springsteen”, straight from the same New Jersey upbringing, Gaslight Anthem continue to push roots rock rifts into the chasm left by The Boss’ natural evolution into retirement. There also seems to be a touch of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in their sound, which is probably why I’m totally beguiled by their catchy hooks.
The Palace is filled by hipster punks and rock chicks, totally not your typically punk rocker clientelle. I was half expecting to see a Journey or Toto T-shirt in amongst the Hot Water Music and Offspring ones to be honest. But the crowd is peripheral to the show itself. I love the fact that despite the fact there are four guitarists in the band, the total number of guitars used during the gig was….. wait for it…… four!!!! Awesomely, there were no guitar changes throughout. Who needs roadies????? It does drive me insane seeing bands constantly change guitars, especially when there is no noticeable difference in sound….
The Gaslight Anthem members are an interesting mix of personalities. I have seen them a few time now and from the outside looking in, here’s my perception of the lads:
Definitely the All-American hero. Boyish good looks. Confident frontman with the sexy, gravelly voice, but with the ability to get all sentimental and poetic. Keeps in great shape, but smokes and drinks like a fish. Is probably the life of the party and has a trail of women around him at any get together. Sees it as HIS band, writes all the songs, does all the media commitments and will no doubt do a series of solo, acoustic shows down the line. Drinks Budweiser.
The band’s gay icon. Muscles, tight white t-shirt, chains around the neck, denim waistcoat, tattoos and sculptured hair. Probably unnaturally obsessive about his hair and looks. Pouts and gurns quite a bit during the show and tries a bit too hard for a quirky stage presence to try to create some mystery, when there probably is none. Likes his equipment to be just right and everything will have it’s own place – loves a wine after the show.
Quiet type that used to tag along with the cool kids. Stands at the back of the stage a fair bit making faces at the drummer. Likes football instead of American sports just to be a bit different. Has a retro Brit rock obsession with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as early influences. More than likely quite a sensible chap that loves a beer but every now and again goes a bit wild by having a whiskey binge!
Total recluse that was the “weird kid” in school. Learnt to play the guitar very early on but was into Anthrax, Anvil and Metallica before it was vaguely cool or rebellious to do so. On stage, keeps himself to himself and out of the limelight. Hangs out next to the amp just to make sure its loud enough. Wears a black hoodie in the middle of summer, and always hi-top basketball shoes. Drinks Jack Daniels, only, even for breakfast!
Wants to be Dave Grohl and has grown his hair long for that look. Bangs the skins as hard as he can at all opportunity. No doubt has toyed with a dodgy mo’ at some stage too. Definitely loves being in the band as he gets to pick up chicks. Hates rehearsal, but loves playing live and the touring lifestyle. Has a ball hanging out with other bands at gigs and festivals and enjoys the rider of his as well as all the other bands. Was the cool kid in school that never wanted to go to university as he was always going to be a rock star. Drinks absolutely anything with alcohol in it!
I have absolutely no idea if any of the above is accurate or not – in fact I very much doubt if any of it is. I’m sure they are all great fun and truly professional with how they go about performing – just like every other band!!!!!
A straight shooting 90 minute set was blasted out. They did a lot of their big tunes very early on, but maintained the atmosphere and momentum throughout. They are a very no-nonsense band and I don’t think banter is quite their forte – especially with a pissed up Aussie crowd!!!! The band don’t move or thrash about too much on stage but their intensity and passion is there for all to see. At the end of the set, they take an extended break before returning for the encore and it finishes all too soon. I had a feeling of wanting just a bit more, but on the whole I think everyone got their money’s worth. A highlight from the show for me:
The loud positive response from the crowd for The ’59 sound, 45 and American Slang are great indictments of the popularity of the band in Australia, the home of classic pub rock. The vocals of lead singer Brian Fallon are perfectly suited for their style. The band are tight, and their enthusiasm for their music is infectious. If they continue to make good old fashioned rock records and put on good old fashioned rock shows, their legend can only grow – rock music will never go out of fashion! (Hopefully!)
I was a touch confused/intrigued as to why they had a Watford and Crystal Palace scarf hanging off one of the amps? I was probably the only one that noticed though!
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Ask any sports or event lover across the globe what is the Number 1 event on their bucket list? The majority will tell you it’s The Superbowl. And yes, I went to the Superbowl! Even if they have a major dislike for the sport of American Football, like a Wimbledon final or the Monaco Grand Prix, the event itself is on every sports fan’s wishlist. The enormity of this one game is staggering. The entire country comes to a standstill for one Sunday afternoon. Tickets are like the proverbial rocking horse poo, perhaps even scarcer, and hotel rooms in the host city are 1000% more expensive than you would normally outlay.
I had acquired one of the hospitality packages for the game where we were provided with 3 hours of food and drinks before the game. Unfortunately due to some over zealous antics the previous night on Bourbon Street, I was a little under the weather. I was feeling so rough I even dragged myself to a well known burger establishment to try and “grease out” the alcohol to try and feel better. I did manage to come good about 45 minutes before kick off some 5 hours after my double quarter-pounder, but up until that point I literally couldn’t face any beer or any food. What a great way to experience a pre-game party that had already cost me most of my life-savings!!! I tried to make up for it in that last 45 minutes but had to calm down for fear of a repeat event. There were bands playing, there were giveaways and a few things to do and of course the obligatory cheerleader appearances….
I was genuinely excited for the game ahead. On paper there was nothing between the two teams, and a quick straw poll of a few of the not-so-but-a-lot-more-local-than-me supporters showed that it really was a 50-50 split in terms of the eventual champions. Aside from the even-ness of the two teams, what made this game even more interesting was that the two respective coaches were brothers, playing against each other for the first time.
On the outside, the Louisiana Superdome is a behemoth of a concrete dome, essentially characterless. Inside, it is bulging with an atmosphere that is second to none. I think that fact that you are so damn lucky to have a game ticket adds to this air of anticipation. As you ride the escalators to the upper reaches of the stadium, all 12 of them, and then try to find find your section, you try to peek through the doors to steal a glimpse of the hallowed turf, then the opening awaits and you are greeted by:
A guaranteed full house is there, although probably less than half are true Ravens or 49ers fans. I always think that the crowd should be split into ends as it is still foreign to me to see supporters of opposing teams sat together when there is so much on the line. When you add in alcohol and the American spirit, I’m still surprised there isn’t more trouble than there is. Mind you, at a $ 1000 minimum a ticket, it doesn’t really attract that type of client I suppose.
The roar at the kickoff is deafening as the game finally gets underway. Under the tension of the game, the teams swap possession and the Ravens had the better quality and lead 7-3 at the end of the quarter. When the 49ers drop the ball at the start of the 2nd quarter, the Ravens recovered it and then marched down the field to score again. Then on the very next play, the 49ers quarterback overthrows badly and gets intercepted by the Ravens defense, from which a brawl breaks out. I’ve always found it hilarious seeing gridiron players throwing punches at guys wearing body armour and helmets!!!!
The Ravens score again shortly after, and it is starting to look like we have a rout on our hands. The 49ers save a little bit of face by scoring another field goal on the last play of the first half to go into half time 21-6 down.
And then we have half-time. There’s half times and then there is the Superbowl half time, which has become nearly more memorable than a lot of the games themselves. The half time show is more than just a sideshow. This year Beyonce was slated to perform, or more importantly out-perform, last year’s effort from Madonna that smashed ratings records. But, fresh from her recent miming (or is it officially lipsynching now?) allegations, when she failed to sing of all things, the American National Anthem for Barack Obama’s inauguration – the second time around – the presidential thing, not the miming! So with a point to prove, the half time show was about as outrageously slick and explosive as it could be. The game is quickly forgotten as a stage is built, 100s of kids enter the arena and the lights turned out.
Everyone in the crowd was given blue finger lights which created an amazing ambiance. Beyonce was joined by the “other two” from Destiny’s Child who also wore matching dominatrix outfits, who arose from trap doors in the stage, followed by flames and strobe lights. In all honesty the sound inside the stadium was very average and it was quite difficult to make out exactly what was going on, but at the end of the day, the show was for the 1/4 billion+ worldwide TV audience. Half-time is a good half hour, of which less than half of that was booty-shaking, hip-thrusting, hair-flipping and not forgetting sashay-shuffling goodness.
When all the excitement of Beyonce wore off, and with the game seemingly heading for a foregone conclusion, the second half kickoff produced yet more drama.
An NFL record return jolted life into the crowd, already subdued by the error-strewn 49ers and the efficiency of the Ravens. At this point in time it looked as though it could be an embarrassing day for San Fransisco and the NFL. But less than 2 minutes later, the lights went out – literally. Half of the stadium was bathed in darkness as something had quite clearly gone wrong. No-one wanted to say it out loud, but looking around I could see fear in people’s faces. It was the biggest event of the year in America and all of a sudden a blackout. Americans almost immediately think of terrorism and the dangers therein, and why wouldn’t this be any different? An enclosed stadium and 100 million people watching on TV, perfect for an attack, right? Well, it didn’t thank God, and a full 35 minutes later, power was restored and we could get on with the game. I think they did quite well to get an electrician out, on a Sunday night, when there was a big game on!!! Must have been paying triple time, with a call out fee thrown in…
Did Beyonce’s saucy set blow the fuse box???? Mind you, after the previous night, it wasn’t the first time I’ve blacked out in New Orleans….
This break in proceedings gave the kiss of life to the wallowing San Fransisco team. A few plays after the restart, the 49ers pull a score back with an astonishing touchdown from Crabtree, who bounced off two huge tackles and stayed on his feet to score. Six plays later they scored again after a long kick return put them in good position to cut the deficit to only 8 points. Another seven plays later, the gap was back to 5 points when they scored a field goal after the Ravens fumbled the ball on their second possession. The wheels had totally come off for the Ravens and now the momentum was truly with the 49ers.
The 49ers had scored 17 points in the space of 4 minutes to breathe unexpected life into the game.
The fourth quarter started and the Ravens trundle up the field only to be stopped short of the end-zone. They settled for a short field goal to extend their lead back to 8 again. At this point the crowd were in raptures, the atmosphere was so tense. The 49ers fans that wept into their beers not so long ago (well to be honest, after a huge half time show, a kick-off return for a touchdown and a power cut for 35 minutes, it actually was hours ago!) were all of a sudden very chirpy!
With the game turned on its head, it came down to these last two plays. (Apologies for the quality or lack of, but it was the best I could find!)
So there it was. What a game. The most exciting, tense and incident packed Superbowl in 20 odd years. The on field celebrations were so over the top, the best way to describe them is by saying that they were typically American! The Baltimore Ravens were then crowned World Champions of America in game that will live long in the memory for all the right and all the wrong reasons.
On the way out I couldn’t help thinking that San Fransisco were like my old laptop. It always starting working better after you turned it off and then back on again! And my old laptop also took round about 35 minutes to get going too!
BALTIMORE RAVENS 34 – 31 SAN FRANSISCO 49ERS
The Espy is Melbourne’s iconic music pub. Bands play 5-6 nights a week and on Fridays and Saturdays it is not uncommon to have all 3 band rooms rocking all night long. Tonight is no different.
Area 7 have been knocking around the Australian music scene for well over 20 years now. However, they are genuinely seen as the archetypal one hit wonder to the majority of locals, and that was in essence due to a novelty record that has had a resounding resonance within the Australian working classes.
The ska scene in Australia seems to have some momentum right now. Ska music never seems to go away, and the huge number of British males of over 35 across the country will ensure that it never will. Old school 2-tone outfits continue to tour and sell out, as we have seen with The Specials, Madness, The Selecter and Bad Manners.
Here’s one for the economists and the many elasticity of demand theories. I saw Area 7 play at the Corner Hotel not so long ago. The tickets were $ 35 and they near enough sold out – well over 750 tickets. Tonight they played for free at one of Melbourne’s most iconic music venues and there was less than 200 people there. Of course there are many reasons why this occurs but it continues to irritate me that the public still don’t support live music, especially when you have bands playing for nothing and performing just for the hell of it.
AREA 7 are generally a 7 piece, hence the name!!! For as long as I’ve been in Melbourne they have always been 8 strong. One time I even saw them as a 9 piece with extended 4 man horn section. Horns are king as far as I am concerned with live music, so the more the better.
The set list hasn’t changed too much either over the years. Unfortunately there’s not been much new material for a long long time now, which kind of explains why. But they have all have fun on stage and more importantly, so do the crowd. After diverting themselves off the proposed setlist (many times), lead singer Stevo, reverts to asking the crowd what they want to hear instead. I promoted an Area 7 gig in Brisbane quite a long time ago, and every time I see Stevo now, whether it be at Area 7 or other gigs, he always makes time to say hello and ask how I’m doing – just a quality individual. It was no different tonight either!
The set list descends into chaos as the night continues.Althought the set is quite short tonight for some reason (I guess because it’s free!) and they finish off with their cover of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry and then their best track Bitter Words rolled into AC/DC’s Long Way to the Top.
The support band is releasing their new album. Between the Wars are a band that kind of live in the Celtic Punk genre. Complete with a female violinist and a huge tall bloke playing a toy ukulele, I can honestly say that the eclectism of the performance is truly unique. The lead singer is short in stature, but giant in voice and passion. He also plays a decent steel guitar which again adds to the distinctive sound of the band.
They finish with their best number too, The Tail of the Rats, which I really like. I found a live version on youtube, but not from this gig, but it shows the dynamic of the band and the track.
There were 12 bands on at the Espy that night. I saw all 6 of the early performers, of which only one could I genuinely bare listening to. After Area 7 finished I managed to catch the last 15 minutes of Massive. – a hard rock act with a mini-Meatloaf as lead singer – and I mean mini – the guy is 5ft 3!!! They drew quite a crowd to the Espy, which is quite surprising as I hadn’t heard of them before now. In the final throws of the set, mini-Meatloaf decided to climb the bar in all readiness to jump onto the dancefloor. He hadn’t noticed the ceiling fan literally 3 feet from his head and I was expecting the worst. It is lucky Mini-Meatloaf is as vertically challenged as he is, as he literally came within 2 inches of decapitation by ceiling fan. Bugger!
All in all quite a decent night out – what gig night isn’t? (oh…. too many stories that could go here!)
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It’s a long way to come for a glorified “pre-season friendly”, but Hong Kong is one of the great rugby stopover destinations. Its home to the most famous rugby 7s tournament in the world and the legendary South Stand has a, let’s call it, unique atmosphere, that’s revered in rugby circles throughout.
The weather however is insane. It is 33C/90F from 8am to midnight and the humidity is over 85%. Even just sitting there you are drenched in sweat. After 2 days on the island, my eyes had salt burn! How the hell this pride of Lions supporters survived the heat, I can only guess. Actually, no guessing required – it was 10 litres of Carlsberg each!
Hong Kong Stadium sells its beer in 2 litre pitchers. The idea is that you are supposed to share – but in the end you are so damn heat ridden you drink it all yourself. But 10 minutes after you finish it, you still want more! Not since I was a student have I necked lager so quickly, not on purpose. I did the 3 pints in a minute challenge once and they didn’t taste very nice on the return leg…… At one stage I went to the toilet and I’m sure all that came out was steam!!!! If I was sitting down, I’m sure I would have blanched my arse!!!
The South Stand is not for the faint hearted. It is raucous, it is drunken and more often than not, raucously drunken. The rugby action plays second fiddle to beer skulling, and the skulling gradually gets more adventurous – first there’s the pints, then there’s the litres, then comes the full 2 litre pitcher and then there’s the straight arm skull.
Protagonists obviously wear more than they consume but when they are at that stage of proceedings, they don’t actually care too much!!!
The Lions playing matches “at home” are rarer than America’s grasp on irony – only 4 times out of 609 games have the team played on home soil. I guess the fact that between all the home nations, they don’t know where that exactly may be so they don’t bother??? The Barbarians meanwhile do not actually have a home, so to play this game in Hong Kong to “spread the word” makes it doubly refreshing. It was quite a novelty in times gone by for supporters to have actually seen the Lions play live, seeing as their tours are 4 years apart and always in far flung reaches of the southern hemisphere. The Baa-Baas are unique in world sport in the fact that players are invited to play in each game and not, as such, selected. Even in this game, there were club-mates playing against each other.
The players selected are seen to be upstanding citizens that uphold the traditional values of rugby union – so no Dylan Hartleys on show here. The fact that the Barbarians concept has survived the professional era of the sport is strength in itself, but this thrashing and a similar one just 7 days earlier surely questions the future viability of games of this nature.
So it does come as a bit of a surprise when, 10 minutes into the game, the Barbarians hooker, a South African coincidentally named Brits, throws a left roundhouse elbow into the side of the head of the Lions fly-half Farrell (who was holding him illegally, so it wasn’t entirely unprovoked) and was promptly sin-binned. What is even a bigger surprise is the fact they play for the same cub side in England! In any other game he would have been sent off, and in all fairness if that had happened it would have rendered the game totally redundant for both teams.
As it was, the Lions ran out 59-8 winners with Welshmen scoring the bulk of the points for the Lions. Seven out of the eight tries scored were by Welsh players, which bodes well for the Test team! There were “official” water breaks for the players sensibly. It was amazing to see close ups of the players on the screen, drenched in sweat even after only short stints on the field. I don’t think Adidas quite had this in mind when they designed their “clima-cool” system!!! Bikram Yoga with balls springs to mind!!!!
4 sets of supporters coming together once every 4 years to cheer on one team – in this case it will 5, possibly 6 sets of supporters. No doubt every Kiwi and most South Africans are desperate to see a Lions whitewash of the Aussies!!! I have now experienced 3 of these tours, and the majority of traveling fans are Welsh. We like to watch rugby; we like to drink and most of all, we like to drink at the rugby and sing a few songs. But when your group is made up of 4 certifiably different cultures, what songs do you sing? Bread of Heaven gets a workout, as does Hymns and Arias. Flower of Scotland gets most joining in. It always cheers me up when I see English supporters singing along celebrating their own defeat! Jerusalem is a rugby classic, but it has kind of been adopted by England (& Wales) cricket fans. What did bring the house down though was Oasis’ Wonderwall! I can just see the teams lining up now for their respective anthems…. All together now….. “Today is gonna be a day that they’re gonna throw it back to you……” At least the crowd would sing along!
The game was really a sideshow for the supporters. It was all about enjoying the occasion. The occasion made the crowd and most certainly the crowd made the occasion. It really did feel like an International Day used to feel like. In the build up to the game, much alcohol was consumed by the majority, and the majority had a bloody great time. There was no trouble that I saw, and the partying continued long into the night in the bars and clubs of Wan Chai. Will a fixture like this happen again? I’m not so sure, and in which case I am grateful that I made the effort to go and see it, even if the game itself was a damp squib.
BRITISH LIONS 59 – 8 BARBARIANS