Rugby union: Middle game crisis

Jonathan Davies is encouraged by the Lions' win but feels a lot of work lies ahead
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It Was vital that the Lions got off to a winning start and they achieved that with a flourish that heartened everyone watching from home. But as much as the boys thoroughly deserved a celebration last night for a job well done, I was worried about one or two aspects of the game.

In particular, I am talking about the middle 40 minutes of the match when there was a worrying lapse in the pace of our play which let Eastern Province get into the game.

We started well, hitting the game fast, and the South Africans appeared very uncomfortable. The Lions' ball retention was first-class and the rucking efficient. It was good rucking that led to the first try by Jeremy Guscott who I thought had an excellent game.

But for some reason we allowed the pace to drop after 20 minutes. This may be because it has been a few weeks since the players have been involved in an important match - no matter how much you train, nothing compares to playing - but I hope they learn the lesson before facing teams who are used to the Super 12, where the pace never slackens. They managed to raise it again in the last 20 minutes and left Eastern Province for dead, but the Lions should seriously look at that middle portion in today's inquest. During this period we began to see one or two problems appear.

I don't want to be negative about such an encouraging performance - Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill and Guscott were all superb - but you couldn't avoid spotting where the problems arose. Our first-up tackling was poor. The initial tackle has to be for keeps. If you don't make it count, the ball is moved on and the opposition can swarm all over you. Too often, our first hit was what I call passive tackling; it allows further progress and doesn't provide the chance to turn the ball over. The best example of a first-up tackle was Scott Quinnell's hit on our old friend Kobus Wiese. It was a beauty. Wiese was wiped out and we won the ball. That's what I call first-up tackling.

The other problem was that when the pace dropped the game got tighter and I'm afraid that Neil Jenkins, despite a reassuring performance after his long lay-off, and Gregor Townsend missed far too many touch kicks. There is still a question mark over Gregor at outside-half. He looked the part when the pace was quick but he didn't look confident when things weren't going our way and quick decisions were needed. He has to work on that and on his kicking out of hand.

A Super 12 team would not have let us off the hook as Eastern Province did when they were 11-10 up. We must accustom ourselves to a swift flow of rugby which we are not used to at home. And when we do move the ball adventurously, as we did in the first and last 20 minutes, we must guard against being too elaborate. It looks lovely when the ball is being passed around but we need to give our forwards a target, to set up a ruck or a maul they can aim to join. But I'm sure that these lessons will be learned now the tour is under way. It was a good start and I'm already looking forward to the next game.

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