Rugby Union: Heroes aim to join the greats

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The Independent Online
The descent from rugby's equivalent of cloud nine can be steep and hazardous, as even the greatest sides have discovered. Martin Johnson's Lions may not quite have achieved greatness yet but their desire to do so in Johannesburg next Saturday is keeping the elation of King's Park within eminently sensible bounds.

"Yes, we've achieved our goal by winning the series but there is still a week to go of this tour and we're not viewing the third Test as any less important than the others," said Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach, yesterday.

"This is the best tour I've ever experienced in terms of the attitude of the personnel involved and we all believe there is more to come from this side, both in Welkom tomorrow and at Ellis Park on Saturday.

"We've spent a lot of time and effort working out a style of play with which we felt we might beat the Boks and we can still improve on it. People say we failed to bring our running game to the Test matches, but everything is of a piece.

"We couldn't have withstood the assault from the South Africans at King's Park without having played as we have in previous matches. I suppose you could say we were still playing 15-man rugby on Saturday, but without the ball."

With his stock as a world-class coach now at a new high, he delivered a ready-made sidestep to questions about his immediate future. "I'm contracted to Northampton and I haven't had a single thought about doing anything else," he said when asked if he might soon return to a full-time post at international level. He did, however, add that this Lions experience had re-whetted his appetite for working at the top and rumour is rife that he will be a prime candidate for the England job should Jack Rowell fail to agree terms with the Rugby Football Union in the coming weeks.

Two of the line-up that tied up the series in Durban are regarded as doubtful for Johannesburg. Keith Wood, the inspirational Irish hooker, and Alan Tait, the Scottish left wing, both picked up groin injuries and will undergo intensive treatment later today.

While the Lions have Barry Williams and Mark Regan to cover for Wood, the back division situation is nowhere near as healthy. Tony Stanger, in South Africa with the Scottish tourists, will join the party in Vereeniging later today to prepare for tomorrow's final midweek match with Northern Free State.

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