O’Brien and the three minute lead

Sean O’Brien, the Irishman who scored a memorable try during the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, has been in the news this week.

The recent three-match series was drawn, which meant that the 2017 Lions became only the second Lions team to win or draw a series in New Zealand in 13 attempts. But now O’Brien has suggested that if the group had been coached by someone other than Warren Gatland, the series would have been a comprehensive 3-0 Lions triumph. It is all a matter of opinion and conjecture, of course, but Gatland, it seems, is not best pleased.

When the memorable series was over, one commentator pointed out that although the Lions had achieved a remarkable result, they had, in fact, only been in the lead for three minutes during 240 minutes of high intensity endeavour. He was referring to the dramatic culmination of the second Test, when a late Owen Farrell penalty gave the Lions a 24-21 victory.

But if they only led for three minutes, so what? The key thing in sport is to lead when the final whistle blows, or the finishing line is reached. Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams were known to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat often with the last kick of the game, in the added minutes which fans and pundits called ‘Fergie time’.

One is reminded of the question put to the Duke of Wellington. Following his victory of Waterloo, he was asked if the British soldiers were braver than Napoleon’s French troops. ‘No’, he replied, but they were braver five minutes longer’. Likewise, a Victorian politician once refused to have a biography written because, he said, he had known too many who had fallen out on the last lap of the race.

C.S. Lewis once pointed out that the person who capitulates to temptation, has not really felt the full force of temptation, since he has succumbed before the final thrust. He wrote, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is ...a man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.”

What matters in sport, and in life, is keeping going to the final whistle. The risen Jesus once rebuked the church at Ephesus because they had lost the love they had at first (Revelation 2; 4). He himself remained faithful to his mission. As he himself said: ‘he who stands firm to the end will be saved’(Matthew 24; 13).