Among the madness, nerves and drama of the British and Irish Lions’ 41-16 victory against Australia on Saturday a host of players elevated themselves into the rarified position of becoming potential rugby legends.
It was a brilliant lion-hearted effort from the whole touring squad to emphatically make history on Saturday and end the Lions’ 16 year wait for a test series win, the last coming against South Africa in 1997.
In a match which sparkled with great performances from many of the 10 starting Welshmen, a pair of Englishmen also rose to prominence in the red hot cauldron of noise at ANZ Stadium.
Leicester Tigers second-row Geoff Parling and new Northampton Saints prop Alex Corbisiero both had career-defining games. The pair were at the centre of a dominant scrum and Parling was seen time and time again barking orders to those around him during his 69 minutes on the pitch despite blood pouring from his mouth into his beard.
Parling, who does much of his work away from the spotlight in the dark areas of the game, stepped into the spotlight when he made a brilliant tap tackle, one of the memorable and potentially key moments of the whole tour and defined what he offers as a player.
In the 32nd minute, with the defensive line shattered by a flying Jesse Mogg, the Lions second row halted the full back with a last-grasp ankle tap which few others in the pack could have done.
It was a great display of the agility and athleticism which Parling brings to the second row and has seen him rise from a bit part player with England, often over-looked because of his size, to an integral three Test British Lion.
His peerless line out display, in partnership with hooker Tigers’ Tom Youngs who also earned his third test cap when he took the field in the 48th minute, and Richard Hibbard before, gave the Lions a second platform, as well as the dominant scrum, to attack the Wallabies from.
And attack and they did. Up until Saturday the Lions led the series on aggregate by just one point after a 21-23 win in the first Test and 16-15 loss in the second.
But four tries from Corbisiero, Jonny Sexton, George North and Jamie Roberts, to the Wallabies’ single score by James O’Connor saw the Lions blow away their rivals.
The metronomic kicking of Leigh Halfpenny, who was named man of the series, gave the Lions their second highest test score in their 125-year history and second-largest winning margin. With Manu Tuilagi’s 11-minute cameo on Saturday all of Leicester’s six British and Irish Lions became test players capping a remarkable achievement for the club which provided the most players to the touring party along with Leinster.
Dan Cole also came off the bench on 55 minutes to put in his best performance of the tour and continue the scrummaging dominance which had been set in motion by Wales’ Adam Jones and Corbisiero whose reputation has risen through the roof since he was parachuted into the squad after Cian Healy was forced home early with injury.
The test now will be whether the triumphant heroes will return to the Leicester Tigers training ground at Oval Park shattered by the draining nature of the repetitive games and intensive training or bolstered by the experience of playing with and against the world’s best players.
When Tom Croft returned from the Lions tour of 2009 he was put on extended rest by the club because his body was so exhausted. What is for certain is Leicester are going to need at least some of their Lions in the opening rounds of the Aviva Premiership to make a positive start at defending their title.
In other news
Leicester will open their campaign to defend their Aviva Premiership crown against Worcester Warriors on September 8 - but they will do so without their director of rugby Richard Cockerill.
Cockerill has been given a nine-game ban by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel after he was found guilty of using words that were “obscene, inappropriate and unprofessional” during Leicester’s 37-17 Aviva Premiership final victory over Northampton on May 25.
Cockerill’s outburst to fourth official, Stuart Terheege, came in reaction to Courtney Lawes’ tackle of Toby Flood which left Flood concussed but was not penalised on the field.
The outcome of the result is that Leicester’s new coaching pair of Paul Burke and the former Tigers captain, Geordan Murphy, will be leading the side on match days until November 3.
In that time Leicester will face: Worcester, (h), Bath (a), Newcastle (h), Exeter (a), Northampton (h), Wasps (a), Harlequins (h) and the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup.
The club are still considering whether to appeal the ban.
For regular rugby updates throughout the week follow me on Twitter.