Gary Boshoff

Durban set for battle royal

2009-06-15 10:23
Sport24 columnist Gary Boshoff (File)
Gary Boshoff

Don’t you find it a bit eerie how the British and Irish Lions managed to pull of yet another win, despite hanging on for dear life towards the end of their match against Western Province? They kept their cool under concerted pressure from a resurgent WP side to slot the winning penalty in the final minutes – the closest they've come to losing on this tour.

While the team that played on Saturday reflected the touring squad’s continued improvement as an effective, well-drilled unit consisting of very efficient, intelligent individual playmakers and combinations, they are still falling short on the execution side of things. Unlike Wednesday evening when their team-mates dominated all aspects of the game against the Sharks and piled on the points in the second half, Phil Vickery’s men just couldn’t turn their initial domination into a convincing victory. Despite this, their game was still characterised by outstanding control of possession and excellent phase-play, creating various try-scoring opportunities in the first and second half – just desperate WP defence kept them out.

On Tuesday we’ll get a clearer idea of who will be in the starting line-up for the first Test in Durban. 

While Rob Kearney was good against WP, Lee Byrne has definitely been the form fullback and will face the Boks on Saturday. The wings will be Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams – despite Williams’s lack of form lately. Williams’s experience makes him a shoo-in. Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts will patrol the midfield and this is where the Lions will attack the South African defence as both Jean de Villiers and Adrian Jacobs have been found wanting on more than one occasion during the 2008 Tri-Nations and year-end tour.

O’Driscoll must be the player to watch as he is in many ways the complete outside centre. The halfback pairing of Ronan O'Gara and Mike Phillips seems to have the inside lane - especially the tough Welsh scrumhalf who is having a fantastic tour and is oozing confidence. He is very strong in that first channel, both on attack and defence and will keep the Springboks busy and on their toes. It is this halfback pairing and the midfield combination of O’Driscoll and Roberts that holds the key to victory for the Lions, of this I have no doubt.

Hold their own

The Lions pack has been brilliant and will at least hold their own against the Springbok forwards which itself is somewhat insecure with John Smit at tighthead. While everyone believes Andrew Sheridan will start at tighthead for the Lions, I believe Gethin Jenkins’s performance against Jannie du Plessis more than justifies his inclusion for the first Test as he demolished the Springbok tighthead in the scrums. 

The rest of the front row is likely to include the lively Lee Mears and Euan Murray or Adam Jones – a formidable combination that has proved their worth on the tour already. The two Irishmen, Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan should lock the scrum – purely from a combination perspective. While Nathan Hines has given his all, he is not playing with the same aggression and discipline as O’Callaghan.
While O’Connell’s work rate has been very high, his tendency to carry the ball in isolation could lead to the ball being turned over. This is one area where the Springboks seem to have a slight advantage. However, with no dedicated fetcher (if Schalk Burger sits this one out) things will be less competitive at the breakdowns. The Lions’ lineout work has been outstanding with Lee Mears one of the best lineout throwers I’ve seen in a while. As a result the Lions seem more than capable of winning their own lineouts and putting pressure on South Africa’s as well.

It is however in the back row where South Africa have a distinct advantage over the Lions – that is if John Smit can stand his ground in the scrums. Pierre Spies and Juan Smith are playing the best rugby of their lives and the Lions are about to be on the receiving end of their desire to impress further. Bulls hard man Danie Rossouw is rumoured to be the stand-in for Burger. If this is the case the Springbok will almost certainly use him as the crash-ball runner where his ability to break the advantage line will be crucial in the Lions’ 22 metre area.

David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip completely outplayed the Sharks’ back row on Wednesday and will be in the starting line-up against the Springboks. The other flank position will depend on coach Ian McGeechan’s gameplan. He will include Martyn Williams if he rates turnovers to be crucial for success in Durban. However, if he fancies the Lions’ ability to protect and control their own possession and focus on the pick and drive and driving mauls, he will go with the very tough Joe Worsley.

Whichever team the sly Scotsman selects, we can be sure that a lot of thought, planning and strategy would have gone into its preparation for this critical Test in Durban. 

Peter de Villiers and his fellow coaches are in for a game of chess like they’ve never experienced before. Come Saturday, June 20 we’ll know if the Springboks have the brains to match their brawn.

Gary Boshoff is a former Saru player and well-known rugby administrator.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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2016-10-20 07:39

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