Rugby Union: Tactics backfire on Boks

Jonathan Davies says the confidence of the Lions was given full expression
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The Independent Online
What a nasty shock this game was for the Springboks. They came out thinking they were going to dominate the Lions up front and were knocked back by a tremendous display of scrummaging that was a tribute to the British coaches, Jim Telfer particularly.

Everyone had thought that the Lions would try to use the brilliance of their backs to attack South Africa out wide, but they did the opposite and now have the platform to be adventurous in the Second Test. I think the Boks will be far more of a handful next Saturday, but the Lions have got the momentum after this victory.

South Africa contributed to their own defeat weeks ago when they decided to withdraw their Test squad from the provincial matches which preceded the series.

I have to confess that in this column I said that this was a master stroke, but I was wrong and so were they. By weakening the teams the Lions had faced before yesterday, South Africa allowed the visitors to build up a level of confidence that helped them through the times when things seemed to go against them yesterday. And through not having played against the Lions before, the Springboks were not fully prepared for the strength of the tourists' defiance.

I won't go as far as to say it was arrogance that beat the Springboks, but there is no doubt they took too much for granted.

The turning point came when Matt Dawson scored that superb try in the second half. They must have thought that Rob Howley's absence was a big handicap and, let's be honest, we all did, so when Dawson made the break, I don't think they took it as a serious threat. Five of them bought the dummy he threw and the sight of him going over for a try inflated the Lions' confidence by just about the same measure that South Africa's spirits drooped.

It was not a classic game. There were too many basic errors, especially at the line-out and with the kicking out of hand. Keith Wood's throw-ins were excellent, far better than his opposite number Naka Drotske, but generally the line-outs were scrappy.

The kicking was also poor and the South Africans were the biggest culprits on this count - Joost van der Westhuizen kicked too much and was a big disappointment, as were Andre Joubert and Henry Honiball, whose moves were littered with basic errors.

In retrospect, the Lions paid them too much respect , which was an understandable error considering their opponents' reputation. They came out thinking they were going to have to live off scraps and they ended up well on top. The Lions hit the rucks and mauls very well and their spread defence was terrific.

The feature of this tour, as I have mentioned previously, is the way that the Lions have, with one exception, always managed to do enough to win no matter how uncomfortable they have looked at times. It is a great quality and even more so on this occasion, because they did not use the strength of their backs until Alan Tait's late try.

Admittedly, in a tight game like this you do notice the lack of an attacking full-back. It may be bit cheeky to suggest that Ian McGeechan should make changes but he might consider bringing in Tim Stimpson at full-back and moving Neil Jenkins to outside half, where Gregor Townsend still makes too many mistakes through being over-ambitious.

A strong and fast full-back coming through will give South Africa something else to think about next Saturday. Not that they haven't got plenty to think about already - they know that the Lions won't pay them so much respect next time and will be more prepared to spread their wings and be more ambitious.

Knowing the Springboks, however, they will be planning to come back with a bang. It was a splendid day for the Lions and it left us all with a huge appetite for the Second Test.

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