Played three, won three; you can't get a better start than that and, although you can point to worrying aspects in each of the performances, the important thing is that they've finished on top. The Lions have done what they've needed to do to win and never underestimate their ability to do that - especially over there where winning is the only language they understand.
It was an extremely good game, with more positives than negatives in the Lions' display. The loose play was excellent, their defence was solid and all South Africa will be worried about the way the chances were snapped up so brilliantly.
More importantly, in the positions we'd been most concerned about - outside- half and full-back - Gregor Townsend and Tim Stimpson put many fears to rest. Townsend looked a lot more assured and his kicking from hand showed a big improvement. As an attacking full-back, Stimpson showed all he needed to, but we were more interested in his goal-kicking. Nobody else would have done better and considering his lack of experience of kicking in games of this importance he can't be praised enough.
You might have recognised the Rob Andrew crouch when Stimpson addressed the ball. That's the trademark of the kicking tutor Dave Alred who is in South Africa with the Lions and, obviously, having a good effect. Alred coached Andrew and has got Stimpson shaping up to the kick in the same way. The crouch helps you focus on the sweet spot on the ball. Kick straight through that spot and over they go. That's the theory, anyway, and there will be no arguments if Stimpson keeps banging them in at that rate.
My only criticism of these two was that they kept trying grubber kicks and little chips over the top when the game called for the longer boot that would put Western Province under more pressure and force them to find touch and give us the throw-in. The refereeing might not be to our liking all the time but the Lions should be learning by now that their refs always favour the side in possession and going forward. Therefore ball retention is vital. It doesn't matter how many phases we go through, we've got to learn how to build our attacks in a solid fashion, keeping the ball and ploughing on.
I'd like to see better communication when the Lions are defending. They rallied round marvellously at times but were twice caught on the blindside when Dick Muir scored his tries. Another glaring lack of communication came when we didn't pick up opponents from a shortened line-out and Andrew Aitken made the break that led to Robbie Brink's try.
The scrummaging was the biggest problem. Western Province's back-row never threatened but they overpowered us up front. Robert Howley has made a tremendous start, but we will lose 50 per cent of his effectiveness if he doesn't have a strong and dominant scrum to work off.
I thought Alan Tait played very well. Allan Bateman would still be my choice for the Test matches but the Lions would be making a big mistake if they started worrying about the Tests with another four or five games to go before we face the first.
The South Africans will know by now that the Lions are not the pushovers they might have imagined. It was great to see John Bentley standing up to James Small; a fiery character who likes to have things his own way. The Lions have to carry on convincing their opponents that they mean business.Reuse content