Rugby Union Commentator
Miles Harrison: Living Room with the British and Irish Lions in 2021 part 5
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 fifth column for the tour: Living Room with the Lions.
Last Updated: 31/07/21 9:15am
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 from the tour to South Africa, however, as our dear colleague is recovering following surgery for colon cancer.
So rather than taking in the Lions tour of 2021 from the commentary position, Miles will be taking it in from his living room, and in the spirit of the epic 1997 documentary Living with Lions, our own broadcasting great is contributing a column: Living Room with the Lions. Part 5 is below...
At half-time last week, I genuinely feared for the Lions that they were going to go 1-0 down without even firing a shot. Handre Pollard's boot was slowly, but surely, piece by piece, kicking South Africa to victory and building them a perfect series platform.
However, what happened in the second period must now rank as one of the great Lions recoveries. This turnaround by the tourists from dull to smart rugby deserved all the fulsome praise which followed but they know that smartness must now be for the full 80 this weekend as South Africa will intensify like only they can.
On this basis, it is right that the Lions have made changes. I've never understood the maxim: 'never change a winning team'. If you have seen issues that need attention why would you not act?
Also, the reasons why a team eventually won on a particular day are not necessarily going to be the same reasons why they will win next time around.
The decision to start with the experience of Conor Murray at scrum-half is, in my opinion, a sound one. Ali Price did not let anybody down in the first Test and, off the bench, he will be a terrific option offering plenty of zest. But, Murray brings that big game 'nous' in a key position that only plenty of flying miles provide.
Yet, the Irishman, who hasn't always been at his best of late, will know that he has to perform.
By way of contrast, for Chris Harris this will all be new but he has been a wonderfully reliable performer for Scotland and Gloucester and now those backing him feel he is the right man to provide the midfield stability that the Lions will inevitably need when the Boks go hard at them in this area on Saturday, especially in the early exchanges.
The third change of Mako Vunipola coming in to start at prop is a fair reflection of what he contributed off the bench. Wyn Jones was in top form before this series but injury denies his current involvement and Mako's response has made it easy to see why his inclusion from the off is now thoroughly deserved.
I'm also delighted to see Taulupe Faletau make the bench. He could wreak some havoc in the latter stages if things are going to plan for the Lions and, equally, if they are not, he is a seasoned and proven presence who could make telling contributions in an effort to pull the result back in the Lions' favour.
Making these three changes is also an excellent signal to send to the rest of the squad. They were told from the outset that there were fine lines in selection on this tour.
Therefore, to not blindly stick by the first Test team and allow in others like Harris and Faletau to make a difference, shows that they really are truly in this together, something that looks pretty obvious anyway when you see the squad warmly interacting on game day.
Of course, the perfect scenario from now on would be to go 2-0 up and then the rest of the squad march into a third Test fresh and with points to prove, relishing the opportunity to show what they can do in a Lions Test jersey. That's the theory anyway.
Last week I said in this column that Josh Adams was the unluckiest man to miss out on first Test selection. Well, his fellow countryman, Liam Williams, takes that unwanted award this week as probably the unluckiest player to miss out this time.
Williams is absolute world-class in all that he does and there is a clear argument to be had that his skills would be a much-valued addition to the Lions backline.
The all-Welsh back three of Williams, Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit sit waiting for their moment in the Cape Town sun.
Another week of training and a Test match of that nature under the belts will have helped South Africa get closer to where they want to be in their preparations for this Saturday. How close they can get in the time available is the big debate.
I do feel the Springboks starting selection is stronger this time around with Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe intensely incentivised at prop and Jasper Wiese's meteoric rise to No 8 thoroughly deserved.
Regardless of Rassie Erasmus' stance and views on the officiating, this will be a Springbok team with motivation levels that cannot be described in words or presented to the media.
In fact, I don't think there has ever been a South African sports team that has not risen to the type of challenge facing the host nation this Saturday. Let's put it like this…if the Lions win again, they will have deserved it, every last drop!
Back at the mic
Finally, this week, this will be the last of these columns as, next week, I will no longer be in the living room with the Lions. This is because I'm delighted to say that I will be picking up the microphone again for the third Test.
It was always the goal to be back for next weekend but, of course, what we didn't know was how well the surgery would go or what direction my recovery would take. But, the brilliant medical team that has looked after me have got me to this point, for which I am so grateful.
I can't wait and I can assure you, it has been a lot more nerve-wracking watching the Lions in the living room than being a commentator.
Speak to you all again then. In the meantime, try to make the end of the game this weekend without having to press pause and take a minute or two in another room to calm down! I wonder who did that last week? That's the beauty of holding the mic, you can't go anywhere!