Rugby Union: Lions need to counter fury with quality

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The Independent Online
Just over a quarter of a century ago, Carwyn James and his multi-talented pride of Lions ushered in a brief but radiant golden age for British and Irish rugby by beating New Zealand on their own heavily fortified mudheap. Today, those sunlit uplands could be revisited by an equally bold and indomitable outfit who, like the 1971 vintage, have succeeded in delivering a whole series of hammer blows to the heart of the southern hemisphere's mammoth superiority complex.

To complete the job in hand, Martin Johnson's men will need to deliver something extra against South African, the world champions, in the emotional crucible of King's Park this afternoon. Namely, the game of their collective lives. Nothing less will suffice, for hell hath no fury like a Springbok side on the rough end of public opprobrium.

One Test up with two to play, the Lions could, of course, afford to lose in Durban today and still secure the spoils in Johannesburg next weekend. Local wisdom strongly advises them to shelve that particular option, however. Of all the great venues in world rugby, Ellis Park is very definitely not the place to go in search of a series-clinching victory. As Ian McIntosh, the former Springbok coach, said earlier this week: "The Lions have to do it now, because they won't do it in Jo'burg."

So, we probably have a do or die situation. Certainly, Scott Gibbs, the heavy-duty midfield hit-man from Swansea, seemed to bear that out yesterday as he articulated the mood of the entire tour squad in typically forthright fashion. "We've geared ourselves up for this game, not next week's game. We can't afford to think about next week.

"We need to have this series won by this evening and while we aim to play more football than we managed in Cape Town last weekend, if victory means defending our line for threequarters of the game, we'll relish doing so.

"The Boks will come for us, we know that. They've picked a new back division full of good players and on an occasion like this, the Bokke jersey is a powerful force in bringing out the best in those fortunate enough to be wearing it.

"We will need to be aggressive, both towards the Springboks and in terms of encouraging each other. If I see any Lions forwards lying around on the floor in the last few minutes, I'll tell them straight: `Get up, you lazy bastards. You can rest as much as you like after the game, but don't you dare rest now.'"

It can be taken for granted that the Boks will not rest. Some of their most influential players - Mark Andrews, Andre Venter, Joost van der Westhuizen and Andre Joubert - suffered a purgatorial afternoon at Newlands last Saturday and if they fail to raise a gallop for the second successive weekend, the furies of hell will descend upon them. Indeed, they are already falling around the head of Carel du Plessis, the recently-appointed and immediately-maligned Springbok coach, and under the circumstances, it will be no surprise if the South Africans suddenly rediscover the sense of purpose that took them to World Cup heaven two years ago.

"It's kitchen sink time, isn't it?" said Jim Telfer, the Lions' forward coach. "The Springbok pack will have soaked up a few lectures during the week and I can see them really going for us up front.

"We have to remember that even though they lost last week, they still managed to get their hands on far more ball than we managed ourselves. Good sides like the Boks don't waste that sort of possession two weeks in a row, so we'll have to be far more competitive and combative at first phase and in the loose."

He might have added that the Lions will need to play more expansively themselves to have a realistic hope of prevailing. Too few major league Tests are won on the backs of rearguard actions, however valiant, for the tourists to manage the feat in consecutive matches. Gregor Townsend and Jeremy Guscott, the off-the-wall genius branch of Lions Incorporated, cannot afford a quiet 80 minutes on this occasion.

With James Small and Japie Mulder sidelined through injury, the Springbok defensive line appears substantially less hostile than in Cape Town and that should allow Townsend to weave a web or two in midfield, remove the shackles from Guscott and bring John Bentley bristling into the equation.

By the same yardstick, however, Danie van Schalkwyk, Percy Montgomery and Pieter Rossouw look to have more about them in the attacking sense. It will not be a day for liberties from either back line.

"The more I watch last week's game on tape, the more difficult I find it to believe that we made so many silly mistakes and wasted so many opportunities," said Gary Teichmann, the Springbok captain, yesterday. Far from making excuses, the No 8 was making a perfectly valid point: the Springboks were indeed almost ludicrously profligate.

As long as the tourists remember that and take nothing whatsoever for granted, they have it within them to resist the Bokke once again. It will take every last ounce of effort and desire but few achievements in world sport are more worthy of the asking price.

Jenkins the boot, page 30


at King's Park, Durban

A Joubert Natal 15 N Jenkins (Pontypridd & Wales)

A Snyman N Transvaal 14 J Bentley (Newcastle & England)

P Montgomery W Province 13 S Gibbs (Swansea & Wales)

D van Schalkwyk N Transvaal 12 J Guscott (Bath & England)

P Rossouw W Province 11 A Tait (Newcastle & Scotland)

H Honiball Natal 10 G Townsend (Northampton & Scotland)

J van der Westhuizen N Transvaal 9 M Dawson (Northampton & England)

P du Randt Free State 1 T Smith (Watsonians & Scotland)

N Drotske Free State 2 K Wood (Harlequins & Ireland)

A Garvey Natal 3 P Wallace (Saracens & Ireland)

H Strydom Gauteng 4 M Johnson (Leicester & England), capt

M Andrews Natal 5 J Davidson (London Irish & Ireland)

R Kruger N Transvaal 6 L Dallaglio (Wasps & England)

G Teichmann Natal, capt 8 T Rodber (Northampton & England)

A Venter Free State 7 R Hill (Saracens & England)

Referee: D Mene (France). Kick-off: 4.15BST