Twelve years after the Lions’ bloody battle in Pretoria, player welfare is still a concern

Attritional contests are things of the past but there has been no change to the exhausting number of games on the calendar

Listen to anyone involved in the British & Irish Lions’ agonising defeat by South Africa in the second Test in 2009 and one word keeps on coming up: brutal. It was a seventh successive Test loss for the Lions but the nature of it – Ian McGeechan’s men bloodied, defeated but unbowed after losing the most gladiatorial of contests with the clock turned red – did much to enhance the myth surrounding the touring side. Despite defeat the Lions’ reputation had been restored after being thrashed by New Zealand four years earlier, but at what cost?

The fallout from that brutal contest in Pretoria has come to be discussed like old war stories. Five Lions players and one Springbok were taken to hospital afterwards. Schalk Burger received a yellow card for an eye-gouge to Luke Fitzgerald but a subsequent eight-week ban. Bakkies Botha was also banned for two weeks for a dangerous charge on Adam Jones which resulted in a protest from the Springboks during the third Test a week later. Indeed, it is worth revisiting the Springboks’ attitude at the time. Their head coach, Pieter de Villiers, said in 2009: “Rugby is a contact sport – so is dancing.

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