Lions to summon up the Gauteng spirit to nail mighty Natal

The Super 12 phenomenon has transformed southern hemisphere rugby to such a degree that Martin Johnson's Lions have been forced to adopt a whole new playing philosophy just to give themselves an even chance of survival, writes Chris Hewett.

In South Africa, they do not come any more super than Natal, double Currie Cup champions and a side eminently capable of wrecking the tourists' buoyant self-confidence in Durban this afternoon.

It is, however, a mark of the visitors' unfathomable reserves of belief and spirit that they go into their latest provincial examination at King's Park as slight favourites. Johnson and company are on such a high that the police must be tempted to take a look inside the team doctor's medicine chest, but there was nothing illegal about the spine-tingling victory over Gauteng in Johannesburg on Wednesday that left the entire party refreshed and invigorated.

"As we've repeatedly said on this tour, there is no split between the Saturday and midweek sides," Johnson said yesterday. "We're all in this together and those who did not take part in the Gauteng match know that they need a big performance against Natal to keep pace with their rivals for a Test place. Wednesday night was all about spirit and it's up to us to repeat that here."

On this occasion, the Lions have access to some valuable inside information; Andy Keast, the Harlequins coach and a video-devouring tactical and technical assistant on this trip, spent two years with Natal from 1994 and guided them to Currie Cup glory in 1995. Keast was as delighted as anyone with the Gauteng triumph, but he did his level best yesterday to restore some sanity with a timely warning or two.

"Natal are the strongest side in South Africa," he confirmed. "They've got heaps of confidence - after all their success at home and in Super 12, they simply don't believe they can lose - and they are so powerful up front that they wear down even the most dangerous opponents.

"Sure, they've lost Andre Joubert ad Henry Honiball and Mark Andrews to the Springboks, but they have real depth to their squad.

"The Lions will find them different to Northern Transvaal and Gauteng. In fact, they may find Natal different to Natal in the sense that they might expand their game to suit the occasion. They're very useful from one to 15 and away from the pressures of the Currie Cup, they may well try to turn it on out wide."

With Kevin Putt, their wonderfully effective scrum-half, suffering from injury and Honiball confined to Bokke camp in advance of next weekend's opening Test in Cape Town, the Sharks, as they are known in Super 12, pair Robert de Preez and Hans Scriba in a veteran half-back partnership. Du Preez played for South Africa in their isolation-breaking showpiece with New Zealand in 1992, while Scriba has been only recently coaxed out of retirement.

Meanwhile, John Allan, the Natal hooker who played Tests for both Scotland and South Africa between 1990 and 1994, is moving in the opposite direction. Allan bids a fond farewell to the Sharks' front row after today's encounter to take up a coaching position with London Scottish.

"It's sad to be saying goodbye but I consider myself privileged to have been involved in it all," he said. "As the King's Park stands have grown bigger and bigger, the side has grown better and better."

NATAL: G Lawless; S Payne, J Thomson, P Muller, J Joubert; H Scriba, R du Preez; O le Roux, J Allan, R Kempson, J Slade, N Wegner, W van Heerden, D Kriese, W Fyvie (capt).

BRITISH ISLES: N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales); I Evans (Llanelli and Wales), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), S Gibbs (Swansea and Wales), A Tait (Newcastle and Scotland); G Townsend (Northampton and Scotland), R Howley (Cardiff and Wales); T Smith (Watsonians and Scotland), K Wood (Harlequins and Ireland), D Young (Cardiff and Wales), M Johnson (Leicester and England, capt), S Shaw (Bristol and England), L Dallaglio (Wasps and England), E Miller (Leicester and Ireland), R Hill (Saracens and England).

Suggested Topics
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'