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Confident Lions aim to out-flank Boks

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Bryn Palmer | 18:39 UK time, Thursday, 18 June 2009

Durban, Thursday evening

So after all the conjecture and deliberation over the identity of the 2009 Lions, what have we ended up with?

By and large, the side that most pundits predicted before the outset of the tour, and the one which has naturally taken shape since their arrival in South Africa.

There were no real surprises, no tactical innovations or left-field selections to bamboozle the Boks.

With the exception of pre-tour injury victim Jerry Flannery, who would have been favourite for the hooking berth, and wing Shane Williams, whose form has not been good enough to justify his inclusion, there are no real absentees of note.

Tom Croft was not in the original squad but has has made the Test XV. Here he relaxes in the sea next to the squad's Durban's hotel

But there was still a constant theme running through the list of 22 names read out by Lions manager Gerald Davies to an expectant media at the tourists' beachfront hotel in Durban.

Mobility rather than man-power, speed of thought and foot as well as strength, ability to out-run and out-think the Boks rather than out-muscle them, is the order of the day.

When the original Lions squad was announced nearly two months ago, much was made of the "big beasts" in the party, the assumption being that matching the hosts' physical threat was the number one priority.

But while the side Ian McGeechan has decided upon is not lacking in physical stature,
his final comment of his media conference was perhaps his most revealing.

"I didn't look at the size and the weight of the players I picked, I just went for the best players I had seen in the Six Nations," he said. "Some happen to be bigger than others, but it wasn't a criteria. I just wanted good rugby players."

Some of the biggest beasts in the Lions jungle - Adam Jones, Andrew Sheridan, Nathan Hines and Simon Shaw - have not made the Test line-up, although 20-stone tight-head Jones will be on the bench.

The media may have drummed up the scrummaging threat posed by Sheridan, but the coaches have obviously intended all along to use the more athletic Gethin Jenkins, no lightweight himself at 18st 8lb.

The powerhouse Welsh prop has had the lightest workload of any of the front-five forwards on tour, with just two starts in the six warm-up games, and admits he is "busting a gut" to be unleashed on the Springboks for what will be his fourth consecutive Lions Test, one he is happy to label "the biggest game of my life".

Jenkins typifies the attitude that every Lion, particularly the pack, will need on Saturday - a player capable of making a tackle or cleaning out Springboks loitering at the breakdown, with the strength and speed to get straight back up and do it over and over again..

"As an eight, we know we need to really smash into the rucks to get our backs the quick ball they need, and that will be the case from the first minute to the 80th," noted Jenkins, one of six Welshmen in the starting XV.

While McGeechan has continually stressed he would not pick his Test team until after Tuesday's final warm-up match, or play them together as a 15, retrospectively we can see he has had a good idea of it from day one.

Encouragingly, all the combinations selected for Saturday have featured in one or both of the Lions' two most impressive performances of the tour.

The 74-10 rout of the Golden Lions featured 13 of the same starters - minus Lee Byrne and Paul O'Connell - that will face the Springboks on Saturday.

And 11 of Saturday's team - minus Tommy Bowe, Ugo Monye, Stephen Jones and Phil Vickery - also started in the 39-3 victory over the Sharks in Durban last Wednesday, the only time O'Connell and Alun-Wyn Jones have started together.

The back row trio of Tom Croft, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip, and the centre combination of Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts, played on both occasions.

Croft and Heaslip both offer useful line-out options at the tail and could well be regular targets for the pin-point throwing of hooker Lee Mears, to offset the pilfering power of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha further forward.

McGeechan admitted the call between Wallace and Martyn Williams - "two clever players" - at open-side was a close one, and that there was a temptation to play them together, but preferred to keep players in their number one positions.

What they have lost in Williams' ball scavenging and link-up play, they have gained with Croft's work-rate, speed around the park and line-out ability, and Williams can always be summoned from the bench to assist the breakdown battle if required.

Behind the scrum, Stephen Jones's greater running game - "he is a threat in his own right" said McGeechan - and decision-making gave him the nod over Ronan O'Gara, while Ugo Monye's finishing power saw him clinch the left-wing berth. "He has shown that when he sees the try-line, he doesn't often miss it," McGeechan noted.

Tom Croft (left) and Ugo Monye strike a pose outside the team's hotel in Durban.jpg

So with the reassuring presence and tactical kicking game of Lee Byrne at full-back, the devastating running of Bowe on the other wing and the power and class of the Roberts/O'Driscoll partnership, the Lions are not short of strike-power.

Or experience. The Springboks were happy to trumpet the 707 caps in their match-day 22 when they unveiled their line-up on Tuesday.

But the Lions can trump that with a whopping 1018 caps in their match-day squad, if you include the 21 caps eight players - five in the starting side, three on the bench - have earned in previous Lions Tests.

While McGeechan accepts the Lions are facing "probably the best team in the world at the moment" on Saturday, there is little mistaking the quiet air of confidence running through his men.

Certainly captain O'Connell was happy to reel off the armoury at his disposal - "great pace in the back row, great pace in the backline, a very fit tight five, a very good scrummaging tight five" - as he contemplated what will be required if the Lions are to pull off their first Test victory since the first match of the 2001 series in Australia.

"If we put together an 80-minute performance, there is no doubt we can win," he insisted.

It is 20 years since the Lions went into a Test series unbeaten in their warm-up matches. But on that occasion they lost the first Test in Australia before winning the next two, the only time they have come from behind to win a series.

Despite McGeechan's contention that this is only the first of a three-match series, he knows better than anyone that victory at sea level on Saturday, before the remaining two Tests at altitude, is imperative if these Lions are to join the legends.

His squad are, barring a few injury setbacks, pretty much exactly where he would like them to be heading into a Test match after only five weeks together.

But the hard part has only just started. Saturday, as McGeechan acknowledged, is a whole different ball game.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog Bryn

    So what's your prediction of the score?

  • Comment number 2.

    I completley agrre that this SA team and squad has more leaders and is more of a finished article. Players like JP Pietersen have gone from young starlets to complete and consistent professionsals.
    However, I also believe that this Lions squad has enough ability in every area of the team, to trouble what is a superbly marshalled and physically imposing front line. The Lions have enough good players to beat any team on their day, this game will come down to individual errors and nerve.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think this and other Beeb articles have said it all. I just want to share my enthusiasm for this series. I'm loving it.

  • Comment number 4.

    well done Bryn. Shame that Ferris wasn't in contention. very difficult to know which way it is going to go. When was the last time that a team with BOD lost a rugby match??? It may have been a few months or more.

    Good choice all round. Looking forward to seeing the Spies Heaslip confrontation.

    Their decision to leave out Shane Williams too has to be respected. Shane hasn't been "right" since the autumn.

  • Comment number 5.

    Murray will be a big loss as the test series rumbles on. Vickery, playing reasonably well, could be targeted and may struggle to contain his emotions. There is weakness now in the front row.

  • Comment number 6.

    im excited for this! it should be a fantastic game. Saffers are world champions, and acknowledged the best team in the world right now, and this lions team is full of running, potential and desire to emulate the other lions greats. im also pleased at the squad selections, whilst feeling sorry for hook and murray who i think may have been candidates to start/bench at the least...

    im up for an entertaining game, and I have a hunch that its going to be close, just shaded by one side...of course im going to go for the lions, but if not then it will certainly be a close one!!

  • Comment number 7.

    i think the main difference between the lions and the boks is 4,5,6,7,8,9. i think every other area is pretty close, maybe even slight edge to lions overall, but this core of the boks is absolutely immense and all would be pushing for tag of best in world at that position (7 excluded for now, but, yes when burger back).

    Ultimately, i think this core of the team will decide the result and mean boks winning series.

  • Comment number 8.

    "No real absentees of note." Stephen Ferris, the best flanker of the 6 Nations? Come on Bryn, give justification for that comment.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great blog, Bryn. Big shame on all the injuries, i'm starting to see why Woodward wanted so many touring last time.
    I agree with nearly all of the selctions but maybe Vickery is still a little too hot headed and Simon Shaw's current form and dedication to the cause could have been useful on the bench.
    Bring on Saturday!

  • Comment number 10.

    Doesn't Burger play 6 and Smith plays 7?

  • Comment number 11.

    Quite harsh that neither Hines nor Shaw have made the bench at least given their committment to the tour so far. Hines especially seems to have given it everything and has shown a fair bit of ability. I like DOC but he has done well to make the bench.

  • Comment number 12.

    No real surprises in the test selection. My main grumble is that Martyn Williams would have been the first name down in my back row. I've got a lot of time for David Wallace (and picked him at 6 in my team) but think the Lions will need Williams vision, scavenging and link play far more than they will Wallace's superior physicality and ball carrying at 7. I tip Williams to make an impact in the 2nd half to earn selection for Tests 2 and 3.

    I still don't rate Monye that highly and think it could be found out in the tests. Shane Williams was obviously the outstanding candidate for the left wing but just hasn't performed well enough to warrant selection.

    I'd have also gone for Sheridan and Powell on the bench to make an impact in the final 20.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am willing to accept the vitriol of the Irish on this one.
    HAYES????????????????????? What in God's name are they thinking, he has only amassed so many caps becuase they have not had a decent prop since the Claw and Nick Popplewell. This really is a low point for the Lions.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm personally really glad that Alun Wyn Jones got in ahead of Hines, Shaw and O'Callaghan. He's been truly exceptionnal in recent times both for the Lions in the matches he's played and for Wales. We have, as Gatland has said, a future Wales and probably Lions captain in him.
    I also think that the pairing of BOD and Roberts in the centres is enough to have anyone, even South Africa, quaking in their boots at the prospect. They are a centres partnership coaches dream of working with.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Doesn't Burger play 6 and Smith plays 7?"

    ToddRundgren, Burger does play six but the Saffers have always played their open side with a six on his back - something to do with the altitude starving the brain of oxygen I think?

    Come on Lions!

  • Comment number 16.

    No Sheridan, you have to be joking.

  • Comment number 17.

    To the comment about Ferris being an absentee of note. It is fair to assume that Bryn was talking about absentees of available players.
    Ferris would have had a good shout at the 22 but it is not a surprise he hasn't made it when he has left the tour!!

  • Comment number 18.

    @8 Sean

    I think he means that the side hasn't left out any of clear leading candidates for the positions who are still available. Ferris, unfortunately, picked up an injury that means he is unavailable

    @10 Todd

    The Saffers number their openside 6 and blindside 7, so to us NH chaps, Burger is a 7, but he wears 6!

  • Comment number 19.

    I've really enjoyed the interesting debates over the past weeks, but I think now is the time to stop guessing and arguing over who should be picked. Geech has set his stall out and the jerseys are now for the first 15 to lose. They need to go out there on Saturday respecting the Boks, but not fearing them.

    It's going to be tough, but I think if the Lions do their best, they can win. Lets all get behind the Lions. It's been a great tour so far.

  • Comment number 20.

    Sadly I think that the Lions supporters are following the standard British way of fair play.
    As we have seen in the opening games, the SA players thrive on physical contact and will consistantly play on the edge of the laws until the referee deems it foul play.
    We have never had a northern hemisphere team approach a test series with this mentality since 1974 and unless the Lions become brutal in their approach to the game I can only see an SA whitewash.
    I still have my fingers crossed for the test series but think the Lions are too conservative in their game so far.

  • Comment number 21.

    regrettably welshtanman (and it does pain me to do this) i'm going to have to agree with you, albeit with great reluctance though. and before i'm accused of bias as well though i must declare my irish blood... if you watch john hayes in a match aside from a reasonable scrum, all he does is run from ruck to ruck and sits on top of it. it's pointless flying him out to south africa just as cover, rest easy though he's hardly likely to feature. i would point out though as well... lack of a decent alternative?

  • Comment number 22.

    The starting XV is as good as can be expected but the bench is weak. There is no player there capable of making any real impact, they are all steady, plug-the-gap players. Hook is a big loss, and had he been available to cover 10, 12, 13 and 15, then S.Williams or Fitzgerald might have made the bench too. Sheridan surely offers more off the bench than Jones, but O'Callaghan over Shaw and Hines is most baffling; he offers very little as a different option to AW Jones or O'Connell. I can't see how substitutions will be used tactically so maybe Geech is going "old school" and will only replace players who are completely unable to walk.

  • Comment number 23.

    In answer to your query, No 4 (fergaljpc), by my reckoning the last time Brian O'Driscoll experienced defeat in a match was five months ago on 19 January, when Leinster lost 19-12 to Wasps in a Heineken Cup pool match at Twickenham. Leinster lost away at Munster and the Dragons in the Magners League in April and May, but BOD was rested for those games.

    Fair point No 8, (Seanthenoisemaker), probably could have mentioned Ferris as the biggest loss of the the injuries so far, he was certainly playing well, but I don't think we can say with certainty he would have made the Test side ahead of Croft. The fact that he's made the Test team suggests Geech made the wrong call in the original squad, and I think privately Gatland would agree, because it certainly didn't seem his call.

    Agree with you No 14 (Giggsformore). I'm a huge fan of AWJ. Worried that he might miss out by virtue of O'Connell being captain and playing his usual middle-jumping role, but they seem to think they can play together. Let's hope so, because I think they're our best bet of negating Matfield in the line-out. People talk of the Boks being physical but AWJ never does anything by half, and Martyn Williams said he was the one player he avoids in tackling practice! (His latest column will be with you Friday morning by the way)

    As for my score prediction No 1 (Ellfromgavenny), I've put it off long enough! I'm hoping that some of the Boks might be a little under-done on Saturday, and that we could sneak a tight first Test 22-18. But got a feeling we'll probably still lose the series 2-1. Here's hoping I'm right on the first one, and wrong on the second.

  • Comment number 24.

    Good luck to the Lions.

    As a Bok supporter I've been looking forward to the tests for ages, but obviously have a few concerns over our lack of recent match practice and the goal kicking (too reminiscent of '97 for my liking).

    Hope it's a decent game and (however the ref performs) that we end up with fewer arguments between the sides than after the Kings game!

    Boks to scrape the first test with a few kicks missed.

  • Comment number 25.

    Welshtanman, In response to your comment regarding bringing Hayes on tour, if you ask O'Connell or O'Callaghan, they say that the strength of Hayes is a huge plus, particularly out of touch, whereby he brings an additional lineout option into play as he's strong enough to lift a player to the appropriate height all by himself. Furthermore, looks can be deceiving, if you view stats of Six Nations matches, Hayes is often right up there in terms of number of tackles made. He is very mobile for his size. Let's hope he can contribute now at this late stage and prove his undoubted worth.

  • Comment number 26.

    Excellent blog Bryn,

    Having watched all the pre-test games it is clear that the coaching team have given the selected players some time with partners to gel together (and obviously know more about current fitness than we do).
    My only observation is that I would have attacked the the bok's beating heart & skipper Smitt playing at tight head, by playing Sheridan to give him a tough time with a remit of 40 minutes, with Jenkins on the bench to come on at half time (to continue the pressure). Jenkins on the bench would have given cover to both tight & loose head positions (Sheridan could then have returned if required through injury).

  • Comment number 27.

    One of the universal joys of rugby is the latitude for out-thinking opponents, at individual and at team level.

    I don't mean to be controversial, but for what it's worth, in my experience, height, weight and slowness about the park aren't necessarily the measures best relied on in picking players for a physical confrontation, which is what I understand to be meant by "out-muscling" the South Africans. In fact, I'd be inclined to interpret McGeechan's selection of, say, Jenkins above Sheridan to mean something along these lines: in McGeechan's view, Jenkins is on a par as a scrummager and lifter with Sheridan (if not better) and is actually MORE likely to assert himself in the physical aspects of the game.

    I say that because I'm sure that McGeechan is quite aware that it doesn't do to ignore the physical side of the game and that dominance, rather than parity, in it will be crucial to the Lions' success.

    I'd have ascribed any preference for mobility among the forwards to defensive considerations, anyway, but frankly I can't see a single instance of a player being preferred simply for mobility - unless you mean selecting an open-sider at open-side. (Had an open-sider also been preferred on the blind-side, I should certainly have agreed that the intention seems to be to "out-flank" rather than "out-muscle", but I admit that I am relieved that McGeechan hasn't done so.)

    I'm particularly pleased with the line-out-related selections. My sense is that McGeechan has taken a look at the Botha-Matfield combination and realised that it has generally faced combinations with only one recognised jumper, which makes poaching so much easier. I'm also pleased that, as in 1997, he has included tail-end jumpers with a view to setting up - or at least create the risk of - peels with which to absorb the South African loose forwards. Failure to accomplish this has in the past cost many teams dearly.

    For the same reason, I think we'll be seeing a good deal of pick-up-and-drive stuff developing off scrummages and rucks. Ugly, bruising stuff, and not consistent with a philosophy of "out-flanking". As to "out-running" the South Africans, I'm afraid it's very much a question of which pack delivers the most and the best possession which will determine who "out-runs" whom.

    While I sincerely don't mean to be controversial, in my opinion, McGeechan has picked the best combination to establish the requisite physical domination. As I consider the current Lions' half-backs to be among the least remarkable they have ever toured with, that physical domination is going to be very important.

  • Comment number 28.

    Segnes: I don't really understand your point on Botha and Matfield. I believe they have played more than 50 tests together, are you saying that every international team in that period has had 'only one recognised jumper'?

    Can't say I agree.

  • Comment number 29.

    Thanks for your response, Saffavescent. I did say "generally". Consider New Zealand, whom the South Africans take on in several tests annually, and who have as strong a side as any. For a short period, New Zealand fielded two players at lock recognised primarily as jumpers: Jack and Williams. On either side of that period, and for considerably longer stretches, they have paired one or the other of those with Thorn, who is viewed as an ancillary jumper, and has been used principally in that role. In many tests against Australia, indeed, they have been up against sides with no recognised primary jumper, and the Australians have had to rely on quick shifting about in the line-out to compete for their own ball at all.

    None of this is to say that South Africa is not remarkably blessed in these two locks; merely to recognise that it is not God who gives them the ball but two extraordinary talents the like of whom one does not often see paired up. McGeechan clearly has sufficient confidence in his personnel to feel that he can select two primary jumpers instead of the usual "jumper and grunter" pairing, and challenge the South African dominance, instead of conceding the advantage before the opening whistle.

    I'll be off to bed soon, so I shalln't get into an exhaustive debate about what an "ancillary jumper" is as opposed to a "primary jumper", or whether an ancillary jumper is likely to be recognised as a jumper. Perhaps Bryn Palmer will want to join in, but I think he might well be in bed already. Hope all the jumping won't keep me awake!

  • Comment number 30.

    Matfield and Botha are generally regarded as the best lock combination in the world with Matfield the consumate poacher. Bothas influence in the L/O is as a very solid number 2 jumper rather than poacher. Matfield has a massive influence on the oppositions lineout strategy as they attempt to take him out of the equation by either going short, which reduces the attacking options, or long and risking Smith and Spies taking the ball.
    With the reinstatement of the full penalty for most offences and the rolling maul, the L/O has once more become the major set piece platform, which I think played a great part in Geeches selections.
    The major hurdle for the Lions, though, is for their big men to avoid the natural N/H instinct of going to ground early to seal off the ball.
    Geech, in fact, seems to have gone for the SA approach favoured by Jake White of selecting players to clean out the rucks rather than using a specialist openside to compete for the ball on the ground.
    I have a feeling that the Lions will find it difficult to consistently curb their instincts and remain on their feet against a pack of forwards who do it naturally and with purpose.

  • Comment number 31.

    I expect the Lions to turn up and to hopefully raise the intensity compared to their previous six outings...however the only way i can see them getting a result tomorrow is if they defend like Trojans which will then frustrate the boks and then they might be in with a shout...if not i fully expect my boys to deliver a sound thrashing.

  • Comment number 32.

    Boks win by a bunch!

  • Comment number 33.

    Liions need a really good start - GoodPheasantPlucker called it right about the SA core of 4 to 9 being strong - BUT Lions are very strong in midfield and have finishing power a plenty
    So the key is going to be getting some moemntum up front - just enough to let the backs / fringing forwards run on to the ball at speed

    Lets hope for a rugby feast !

  • Comment number 34.

    There will be blood! And it won't be green!
    Quite sad how everyone on this blog's chatting up the lions chances.
    The boks might suffer from being rusty but they'll just edge this one. The 2 remaining games will be a walk in the park.

  • Comment number 35.

    CHELSEASAFFER

    You've changed your tune. On a blog a few days ago you predicted 42 - 9 to the Boks. Now you think they will just edge it. Make your mind up!!!

  • Comment number 36.

    This is pretty much the Lions team I would have picked. I expect Martyn Williams to come on in the second half. BOD and Jamie Roberts are going to be great and watch Alun WJ become a Lions Legend.

    By the way, that article on the beeb site showing Habana bearing down on Shane Williams.... are you sure? Looks more like Leigh Halfpenny to me...??

  • Comment number 37.

    @ ellfromgavenny

    Well, from what i've been reading in the papers, the lions seem to be pumped up for this one. I think spirit more than ability will carry them to just narrowly lose against the boks. A re-think on my prediction:

    Boks 26-20 Lions

  • Comment number 38.

    Enjoyed your piece Bryn, although you- and most posters on here- did leave out one key man in the Lions lineup who will have a substantial effect on this series- McGeechan himself. He's a wily old bird and probably the most successful Lions coach in the modern era. Just imagine what we would be saying if Andy Robinson were in charge.

  • Comment number 39.

    "...no real absentees of note".

    A disgraceful and pro-English comment. What about the best blind-side in the Six Nations, Stephen Ferris. Is he not of note? Maybe not when the next over-hyped, over-rated english superstar, Tom Croft, is available.

    A shameful and biased comment. Croft is, at best, promising and of limited experience, whereas Ferris has proved his class by winning a Grand Slam. Croft will be eaten alive on the tour, and we will see some switching around the back line.

    No real absentees of note. A shameful comment from a commentator with the attention span of a goldfish.

  • Comment number 40.

    CHELSEASAFFER

    That's more realistic. It's going to be hard for the Lions, if they lose tomorrow then i'm affraid it will be a whitewash, but i'm slightly optimistic. Do you think Burger is a big loss for them?

  • Comment number 41.

    Great blog Bryn I completely agree with you. The Lions team is exactly as I predicted in the blog last week except I had Martyn Williams in the starting XV and Wallace on the bench. I am a huge fan of Nugget and I am desperate for him to start a test (as I'm sure he is)I think the link play he provides could be vital, against the Kings he showed that time and again. That said I like the side that is selected, it has power, pace, experience and the skill to unlock a very good Boks XV. Like everyone in the UK and Ireland I cannot wait for the K.O. this has the potential to be a cracking match and a set a platform for the 2 tests to follow. I still belive the Lions will win 19 - 15. Good luck boys my thoughts are with you and I hope you all play the game of your life.

  • Comment number 42.

    gpjmoss has a good point about Ferris. I am gutted for him that he is injured as i think he has been superb this tour and definately deserved a spot in the test 22 and maybe in the starting 15.

    However i don't agree about croft being overrated. It was a big msitake not selecting him originally and i am sure although he wouldn't admitt it, Geechs would have realised it!

    Loving the Lions side, the best they could have put out based on form! If shane Williams had performed to the level which we have seen in the past then he would have got a spot.
    Back the Lions to go out and do this.

  • Comment number 43.

    bryn - "they have gained with Croft's work-rate"

    Are you insane? Croft had a better work rate than martin williams?????

    Your deluded.

  • Comment number 44.

    Does anyone know how long the IRB Player of the Year jinx lasts?

    If this tour had taken place 18 months ago all the talk would have been of Bryan Habana versus Shane Williams. Now neither seem to rate a favourable mention.


  • Comment number 45.

    Just wondering if you realise the picture on the link to this blog where it says "Habana bears down on fellow IRB Player of the Year Shane Williams" that isn't Shane Williams that is Leigh Halfpenny in the Autumn Internationals. Just thought it should be said.

  • Comment number 46.

    Bryn

    Croft's selection does not mean his original omission was wrong. Both Ferris and Quinlan were selected ahead of him and are now not on tour. Croft goes missing in matches I have watched, whereas Ferris is always in the thick of it. The two of them can't be compared.

    When Ferris went off against Wales (after 5 minutes or so), it was the key factor in keeping the match close. If he had stayed on it would have been comfortable.

    That being said, Croft is a Lion now as are the other 14. That means we support whoever is wearing the jersey. I suspect Geech knows more about team selection than other of the rest of us experts and he knows what he is doing. Come on the Lions!

  • Comment number 47.

    Sorry should of made that more clear the article link http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/8108132.stm

  • Comment number 48.

    The Springboks have the better bench. Other than Williams, the Lions subs only offer fresh legs without the game changing ability of Fourie, Steenkamp, Rosssouw and Bekker.

    Also, the game is being reffed by a Kiwi and the Lions still didnt go for a specialist fetcher? The breakdown is different south of the Equator where no team did well in the S14 without a dedicated fetcher.

  • Comment number 49.

    I'm sounding a bit rugby ignorant here but TimfromJhb what is a fetcher?

  • Comment number 50.

    Anyone think that the drop-goal could be key to winning this...

    As an England Support, I know that BOD is good at them... SJ as 10 will be doing them for breakfast...

    Seems reasonable to assume that the speed and power of the backroom and centres will be used to put us into a good position for someone to go into the pocket alla Guscott.

    Just a thought, otherwise, love the team, would have like Kearney over Monye, Shaw or Hines on the bench, but otherwise looks good to me.

  • Comment number 51.

    I would consider Ferris as a real absentee of note! A real shame he is still not there.

  • Comment number 52.

    The team is pretty much as most would have predicted given the enforced absence of Flannery and Ferris.

    The only two questionable selections are Monye (who has justified it with his finishing on the tour) and Vickery (Will help in the scrum but we will probaby still lose that battle and gives very little else).

    My only change would be to put Shane Williams on the bench. I know he has not been playing very well on the tour but he is the one player we have who the Boks will be scared of as an individual. He has the ability even off form to create a try-scoring chance from nothing which could be massive in a tight game. His prescene on the field would ensure that the boks always had one eye on him just in case, without him as an option, even from the bench, they will go into the game with that much more confidence as they will not have that element of unpredictability to have to deal with. Kearney is a decent player and I understand why he is in there, he will not let anyone down but he is also unlikely to provide any moments of inspiration either.

    Perhaps if Hook can be fit for the bench in the second test (to provide cover for FH/Centre/FB) then Williams can come in as well.

  • Comment number 53.

    I rate David Wallace as one of the best players of his generation, but surely Martyn Williams would have got a start if Geech's plan is simply to run the Boks into the ground? Williams' link play is unmatched in the game.

    As for Hayes being called up, that's hilarious. The South Africans are still laughing, and they heard the news 12 hours ago. We've already got one hulking, useless, over-rated prop on tour, why double the numbers?

  • Comment number 54.

    "Stephen Jones's greater running game"

    Brilliant. The guy runs like he's carrying a fridge on his back.

    Still, he's better than O'Gara by some distance.

  • Comment number 55.

    Hackerjack ,

    Let it lie Williams has had his day and has more chances than anyone to prove his worth and sadly form has deserted him I fear we will not see him in full flight again . In his current form he would be a liability doing little more than drifting accross the pitch eating up space . He is now fourth choice at best . Kearney is a much better bet .

  • Comment number 56.

    My apologies. By fetcher I mean a specialist open side flanker in the mould of McCaw, Smith or Waugh. Brussow will do this for the Boks.

    From Wikipedia: South African teams generally use openside and blindside flankers, but play the more agile 'fetcher' in the number six shirt, while the larger and quicker (blindside) flanker wears seven.

  • Comment number 57.

    No26 HCBrain this is not because im welsh im sure a lot of people will agree with me.
    I really dont see an advantage playing Sheridan for first 40 ahead of Jenkins like you suggest. Jenkins is a better scrumager than smitt anyway and he offers so much more than any of the other props on tour so far he has proved this in only 2 starts. Also i think Jenkins ang vickery bring a bit more aggresion to the pack that the lions will need Sheridan seems to go into his shell alot in big games and decides only to work in the scrums he needs to give more than that.

  • Comment number 58.

    Gethin Jenkins: Probably the best prop in the world (and, no, I'm not Welsh).

    The rest?

    A Jones: Solid player.
    Murray: Good player. Unlucky.
    Vickery. Past it. Discipline a huge problem. No fear factor.
    Sheridan: Flat-track bully. Brilliant against a rubbish Aussie front-row, rubbish against everyone else. Lazy around the field.
    Hayes: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha....

  • Comment number 59.

    Hi folks, thannks for all your comments, keep em coming.

    In relation to my attention span being that of a goldfish (No 39 -gpjmoss), I refer you to my response in No 23, where I agreed with another poster that I could have mentioned Ferris among the significant absentees. He was certainly looking like a Test candidate, if not a certainty, before his injury. Made me chuckle to think that someone with a name like Bryn could be accused of "shameful pro-English bias"!

    And in response to No 43 (Wonderous1). No, I wasn't suggesting that Tom Croft's work-rate was higher than that of Martyn Williams. The point was that Geech admitted he had considered playing Wallace - at six - and Williams together, but decided that ultimately he wanted players in their best positions. So given that he had to work out what balance he wanted in the back row, he must feel that what Croft provides is more important in the context of this game than the qualities we all know Williams has. We will see on Saturday if he has made the right choice.

  • Comment number 60.

    Bryn;
    In answer to your query, No 4 (fergaljpc), by my reckoning the last time Brian O'Driscoll experienced defeat in a match was five months ago on 19 January, when Leinster lost 19-12 to Wasps in a Heineken Cup pool match at Twickenham. Leinster lost away at Munster and the Dragons in the Magners League in April and May, but BOD was rested for those games.

    Good bloodhounding...Even that game was a sort of victory, Leinster secured a losing bonus point in the Heino Cup thus pretty much securing the group. Flip a coin with BOD and you'd probably loose.

    Is the playing surface up the scratch? In the past tours of SA a lot has been made of the "hard pitches", is this one any different or has modern groundkeeping and irrigation techniques filtered in to this part of the world.
    Keep chewing the Biltong...

  • Comment number 61.

    Sad to see the usual Croft bashing fron the same suspects. Of course he is nor the finished article but it's time we supported the team whoever has been selected.
    It is no coincidence that the best performance so far had the selected back row.
    Lots of players from all nations have been over-hyped and I bet not one of them like it. Croft is a quiet bloke. I'm hoping for good things from this back row. I don't think they will be thwarted by the SA back row like some are suggesting.
    Has not Powell not been over-hyped also- he has the appearance of a hard man but is a feeble rucker- goes in too high- and is a poor tackler.

  • Comment number 62.

    @ ellfromgavenny

    Burger is a massive loss, he's the type of guy that will walk straight into any international team, But Brossouw getting a first cap is gonna be massive, if he can replicate his super 14 form then the lions will suffer, especially at the break downs. Lions with no fetcher in the team, i foretell a lot of bok turnovers.

  • Comment number 63.

    axminster;

    still alot of people out there not convinced by Croft. His performance in the heino cup final was pretty dismal. But i think he (granted Ferris going home) was the outstanding candidate for the 6 shirt and given that he is a specialist 6 (who sometimes likes to play on the wing!) it was the right call, as moving either Wallace or Martyn Williams to 6 just to accommodate them both would have been foolish.

    The usual Wales v England, any old excuse to get it going too on these boards. Even Bryn (I'm not English) like to engage in a bit of jingoism.

  • Comment number 64.

    I hate to burst the 'Anti John Hayes'campaigners bubble, but isn't this the same tight head who was the cornerstone of a dominant Irish pack who secured enough of their own ball, and some of their allegedly more deserving opposition's ball, to win a 6 Nations Grand Slam?
    Hayes is in the form of his life and, if you consider his tackle count andwork rate around the park , should have been on the tour from the start(at the expense of vickery, in case anyone asks).
    I agree with several other commentators that the loss of Stevie Ferris is a major blow.

  • Comment number 65.

    Spies, Brussow and Smith will be a major factor and I dont think Wallace, Croft and Heaslip will cope!
    The Lions have really battled at the breakdown and the Springboks will pounce all over that.....

  • Comment number 66.

    Will be close but what ever 15 we put out, the saffers are sure they can match and beat. I hope they believe all there hype and press and then get a shock. And that is what the lions must do and I'm sure the coaches are pressing for, a furious shock and awe play in the first half. All the so called 'warnings' by Botha and co that they will be in infor a tough game, well what forward doesnt say that...? Pretty weak mind games...

    What to poeple think about the mind games so far? Who is up?

  • Comment number 67.

    In respect of 'mind games' I think the Lions have maintained a dignified stance. They know what they are up against,as do the Boks. The Lineout will be crucial, but it will be more to do with the the accuracy of the throw-in. Mears has beenimpressive thus far. My concern is if he gets injured. Neither of the back-ups are marksmen.

  • Comment number 68.

    Agree with TimfromJhb on the refereeing influence. Much as I admire M.Williams I think he may be a little lightweight for this test. However I think the Lions will just edge this game if they can get parity at the line-out. Not too worried about the scrum, but the ref and t-judges need to be right on their game and not bottle yellows and potential reds. Can't wait.

  • Comment number 69.

    Indeed, Bryn! I am reading "Barry Lyndon" and loved the definition of the "original" United Kingdom...hence my comment, which I am glad you spotted.

    Anyway, the overall point is that, with the exception of BOD and maybe O'Connell, very few Irish players get the creidt they deserve in the "English"-centric media. Croft is the latest player to be over hyped. Remember the last? Chap called Cipriani?

    Particularly Ferris, who carried a very average Ulster side last season.

  • Comment number 70.

    13. At 10:34pm on 18 Jun 2009, welshtanman wrote:

    "I am willing to accept the vitriol of the Irish on this one.

    HAYES????????????????????? What in God's name are they thinking, he has only amassed so many caps becuase they have not had a decent prop since the Claw and Nick Popplewell. This really is a low point for the Lions."

    How about you accept our contempt instead?

    You complain about Hayes, but don't name an alternative. This is either because you are too ignorant to name another prop, or too gutless to make a choice and be criticised for it.

    You then go on to badmouth Irish props in general.

    Well my tiny-minded welshtanman if you can't figure out for yourself why Munster always seem to dominate the lineout and have scored a hundred tries from driven mauls, then far be it from me to try an enlighten you.

  • Comment number 71.

    I agree with gpjmoss in comment 69 in respect of Irish players getting the credit they deserve.Front row in particular. Although a little unfair to say Ferris was alone in carrying Ulster last season.

  • Comment number 72.

    Great blog Bryn and enjoying all the other comments. I think Leinster also lost to Edinburgh in April in the Magners but not sure if O'Driscoll played.

    About missing players, just wondered which stand off would have prospered had O'leary been fit and which scrum half for that matter? Phillips made Jones pick a certainty didn't it?

    Also do you know who would have played 3 if Murray had lasted? Would be have usurped Jones to the bench or both Jones and Vickery or neither?

  • Comment number 73.

    I hate to say this really, but why are Lions fans so confident? Of course they can win. But if I had to put my mortgage on the result on Saturday I am afraid I would have to go for the Boks. If the Boks won relatively comfortably would anyone really be that surprised? People talk about the threat of Jamie Roberts. But the French saw him off comfortably in Paris. I expect the Boks will too. O'Driscoll is back to his best and he could make a difference but he's just one man. Who else is there? Tommy Bowe maybe. He is in form at least, unlike Williams. Monye? No, not for me. If he is the best left winger among the home nations then lordy lordy. Byrne is a bloody good player though. He always seems to have a good game. At half back the Boks must have the edge. I quite like Jones, he is solid, but I remain unconvinced by Phillips even though I think he is the best the Lions have. Du Preez is better though, surely. As for the pack, the way I see it, the Boks have the edge in the back row and are much better in the second row (I would not have picked O'Connell myself - should have made O'Driscoll captain). The Lions probably have the edge in the front row, just. But again, how can Lee Mears be the best hooker of the home nations? He is hardly Keith Wood is he? Nope, I just don't see it myself though would be happy to be proved wrong.

  • Comment number 74.

    69 gpjmoss
    I have to disagree with you I think you are missing the point nobody really cares what the press are saying
    I dont think Geech has been swayed at all by all the hype he stuck to his word and chosen the team on current form if Ferris had been fit Im sure he would have got the nod he looked awesome before his injury.

    As regards Croft being overhyped heres hoping he proves you wrong what a chance he has may still be a bit raw and he has been a little quiet so far on tour but I think hes a quick learner given his meteoric rise lets hope he can continue on a steep learning curve hes certainly got loads of experienced players around him Im sure hes champing at the bit to get going on saturday

  • Comment number 75.

    Any reason why this is on the Scotland sports page?

  • Comment number 76.

    No intention of getting side-tracked by this, but to those who have been knocking Vickery, I suggest that you keep a very close watch on his loose play tomorrow - you will understand then why he is in the Test team - his clearing out of rucks and mauls is immense, so is his tackle rate.
    Regarding the game - I'm going to risk ridicule in some quarters and say that I can see a clear win for the Lions tomorrow - something like 29-15, which will cause the Saffers to sit up and think (and take off the green and gold shades).
    Tests 2 and 3 to be much closer, but the Lions to take it 2-1.

  • Comment number 77.

    Most of the comments about Hayes are unfair in my opinion, its true that hes not the greatest prop ever but he still brings a hell of a lot to the table. Hes got an immense work rate, his tackle count is always very high, his line-out lifting is top class and he adds significantly to the maul.
    His scrummaging is poor at times, no doubt about that, but in the last few years the scrum has lost alot of its importance, teams can still win games without a dominant scrum. Give the guy a break, its not like he's starting in the test team, and even if he was, you can be sure that he'd give everything for the team.

    As for the rest of the team, as said above its as expected, if Flannery, Ferris and maybe Murray were fit they'd probably have been in there.
    Croft is a great player and has had a good tour, but the form of Ferris was so good that he couldn't have been left out.

    I hope Vickery keeps his dicipline, the last thing we need is an early sin-binning.
    Also hope O'Connell steps up his performance, he has only been ok in the warm up games so far.
    It was close between Williams and Wallace but I think Geech made the right decision, Wallace has deserved this and Williams is some man to be able to bring on.
    The contest between Jones and O'Gara wasn't really one. It was obvious that Jones was gonna get the nod from the start, but if he doesn't do the business he may lose his place, he must get the back line moving!

    Overall, good team, we have a good chance if the team clicks. I'm really looking forward to it now!!!

  • Comment number 78.

    saw the below man-on-man comparison on a SA rugby blog... interested to see what everyone thinks?

    Tendai Mtawarira v Gethin Jenkins

    Jenkins is a seasoned veteran who knows all the tricks of the trade. With all due respect to our favourite Beast, the Welshman on his second British & Irish Lions tour has forgotten more about the loosehead role than Mtawarira has learned in this early stage of his promising career.

    Verdict: The Lions draw first blood. (Boks 0-1 Lions)

    Bismarck du Plessis v Lee Mears

    The busy Bismarck has an incredible work rate. Hes an added threat at the breakdown and seals the ruck fringes off well with a dozen of tackles per game. Mears is more of a tradition hooker who does the basics well.

    Verdict: Mears is no slouch, but Du Plessis shades it. (Boks 1-1 Lions)

    John Smit v Phil Vickery

    Both are great leaders who led their respective countries in the 2007 World Cup final. As a competition for best tighthead, however, its decidedly one sided.

    Verdict: Vickery gets the victory (Boks 1-2)

    Bakkies Botha v Alun-Wyn Jones

    Bakkies is a specialist enforcer lock while Jones doubles as a lock and flank. Few, if anyone, can stand up to our Bakkies, so Jones shouldnt feel too bad about losing this one.

    Verdict: As the norm, the specialist outclasses the utility. (Boks-2-2 Lions)

    Victor Matfield v Paul OConnell

    Perhaps the most anticipated head-to-head encounter of the entire series. Two second rowers wholl go down as Hall of Famors when the curtain draws on their illustrious careers. Matfield has the edge in the lineout, but OConnell wins the physical battle.

    Verdict: OConnell hasnt been in the best form, but he ups the ante considerably at Test level. To quote Peter de Villiers, form is temporary, class is permanent. Draw (Boks 2.52.5 Lions)

    Heinrich Brüssow v Tom Croft

    Both men were omitted from the initial squads. Croft was called up after Alan Quinlan was suspended and Brüssow was brought in for the injured Schalk Burger.

    Verdict: Brüssow is untouchable at the moment and puts the Boks in front for the first time. (Boks 3.5-2.5 Lions)

    Juan Smith v David Wallace

    The Irishman is a prolific try-scorer for a forward, having scored 11 tries in 55 Tests, but thats about the only advantage he has over Smith.

    Verdict: The World Cup winner stretches the Boks lead. (Boks 4.5-2.5 Lions)

    Pierre Spies v Jamie Heaslip

    Very similar players. Both were age group stars. Both have remarkable athleticism and both play a similar game. Spies has 19 Tests to his name, Heaslip has 18.

    Verdict: Spies immaculate form gives him the edge. (Boks 5.5-2.5)

    Fourie du Preez v Mike Phillips

    Two of the best scrumhalves in the business. The tactician v the giant. At 1.82m, 88kg Du Preez is no small No 9, but hes dwarfed by the 1.9m, 103kg Welsh Dragon.

    Verdict: Phillips has had a great tour but Fourie is a mastermind who remains on top of the scrumhalf heap. (Boks 6.5-2.5)

    Ruan Pienaar v Stephen Jones

    Pienaar might be considered as the Tiger Woods of rugby, but at flyhalf, hes still very inexperienced. Jones on the other hand, is more of a Greg Norman. 83 Tests, two Grand Slam titles, a former Welsh captain and currently on his second British & Irish Lions tour. Pienaar has his work cut out for him.

    Verdict: Theres no substitute for experience. (Boks 6.5-3.5)

    Bryan Habana v Ugo Monye

    Habana, the 2007 IRB Player of the Year, is arguably the best wing in the world. However, his English adversary has been in such scintillating form that hes locked down the No 11 jersey ahead of 2008 IRB Player of the Year, Shane Williams.

    Verdict: Big things lie ahead for the gifted Monye, but hes no Habana just yet. (Boks 7.5-3.5)

    Jean de Villiers v Jamie Roberts

    Everyone is looking forward to this epic battle between the two big, bruising ball players. Roberts has been a revelation on this tour. This is a guy who fractured his scull in a collision with Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock, stood up, shook it off and continued playing.

    Verdict: Roberts good form and lethal combination with Brian ODriscoll forces a draw against a rusty De Villiers. (Boks 8-4 Lions)

    Adi Jacobs v Brian ODriscoll

    This is going to be an entertaining match-up. A tenacious Jacobs on his home ground against the legendary ODriscoll. The Irish wizard has been sensational in the warm-up matches and is set to continue that rich form in the Test series.

    Verdict: Adi is awesome, but ODriscoll is a legend. (Boks 8-5 Lions)

    JP Pietersen v Tommy Bowe

    Pietersen is another local favourite in the Shark Tank. He had a solid Super 14 season but and will be eyeing the try line. Tommy Bowe, who also has a knack for scoring tries, has arguably been the best British & Irish Lions back of the tour.

    Verdict: Bowe wins this one. The Irish flyer has been on fire. (Boks 8-6 Lions)

    Frans Steyn v Lee Byrne

    On Tuesday, Peter de Villiers finally announced that Steyn will fill the vacant fullback position. Hes extremely talented, but its been a while since he last played at fifteen. In contrast, Byrne is an experienced fullback whos scored one of the tries of the tour in the opener against the Royal XV.

    Verdict: Byrne bests Steyn (Boks 8-7)

    There you have it. The Springbok loose trio gained ascendancy, which opened up a lead, but the British & Irish Lions and their lethal backs clawed their way back. In the end, the Boks held on for the narrowest of wins. Will that be the case again on Saturday?

  • Comment number 79.

    BOKS are to confident, I reckon the Lions will muller them myself !!!

  • Comment number 80.

    Good post dougmunro @ 78. Good assessments and an interesting read. I think Roberts will have a stormer playing beside BOD. This owuld change your marks a bit and hopefully prove your result prediction wrong. Good effort mate.

  • Comment number 81.

    Glad to hear Gethin Jenkins talking about smashing into the rucks as a huge effort will be needed by the forwards to match the Boks aggression and intensity. Think Martyn Williams will have some part to play in the series. As stated the Boks play the game on the edge of the laws and Williams' is awesome at disrupting oppositon play whilst keeping his own forwards ticking over.

  • Comment number 82.

    CUMMON YOU LIONS!!!!!

  • Comment number 83.

    Boks this. Boks that. they aint that good. A fine rugby team no doubt but not total worldbeaters.

  • Comment number 84.

    NUMBERWANPURENED

    Well put. They aint that good, they are there for the taking, bring it on !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 85.

    i really do hope all this enthusiasm is still here 16 hours from now...

  • Comment number 86.

    ellfromgavenny

    Bring it on. I agree mate. Intae Them.............

  • Comment number 87.

    20 minutes left to score 3 converted tries and win the game... hmmm... it is possible...

  • Comment number 88.

    Good effort in the second half. If we hadn't lost Euan Murray last week we would have won that game today - if he had played. I felt Graham Rowantree made a big mistake touting his mate, Phil Vickery, for a test start a week in advance of the game. Bad move trapping off like that Graham.

 

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