Rugby Union: Tourists undone by basic errors

Jonathan Davies identifies the lessons to be learned ahead of the Test series
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The Independent Online
This defeat will hit the Lions' morale very hard but they mustn't allow it to destroy their overall optimism. I still believe they have the potential to win the Test series. But it is more important that they believe it than me and when they get down to an intense inquest about yesterday I hope they can draw some comfort from the lessons that were driven home hard by a good Northern Transvaal side.

The Blue Bulls were the best team they've met so far and would have brought them face to face with the step up in class they have to take if they want to make this a successful tour. But it was not that difference in class that beat the Lions, it was a succession of basic mistakes. The game turned when the Lions were attacking and Gregor Townsend presented Danie van Schalkwyk with a pass that gave the winger a free run at the try-line. It was the easiest interception I've ever seen in my life.

There are many things the Lions have to put right pretty quickly, especially certain failings in the scrum, but if we are going to make basic mistakes like that, then no improvement is going to save us.

To be honest, Northern Transvaal were unlucky not to score a couple of extra tries in the first half. I thought Wynand Lourens was particularly unlucky when the referee ruled that he'd made two movements before going over. But as good as the home side were, the Lions still managed to show some class activity among the backs. Players like Jeremy Guscott, Robert Howley and Townsend can win games through individual brilliance and the South Africans will never be able to rest while they are on the park.

But there are times when we don't need miracles - all we need is good, honest safety and stability. If you compare yesterday's performance with the brilliant win the Lions gained over the Pumas on Wednesday there was no comparison in the way the Lions pack performed. True, they were up against a different proposition yesterday but the stability that was the basis of Wednesday's victory just wasn't available yesterday.

The two positions from which you get most stability are outside-half and full-back. On Wednesday Neil Jenkins was as solid as a rock and Nick Beal did everything you want a full-back to do. When you have that sort of solidity, every part of the team functions better, especially the pack.

The stability in those positions yesterday was almost non existent. Tim Stimpson failed to collect two high kicks early on and missed a one-on- one tackle on Van Schalkwyk that led directly to a try. He also showed an alarming lack of communication with his wingers, particularly when he and Tony Underwood went for the same tackle and allowed Adriaan Richter to stroll in for a try unchallenged. Basic errors like that will kill you stone dead at Test level.

Townsend is brilliant one minute and a liability the next. His lateral running and his delayed passing worked very well is his in his first two games but those skills seemed to desert him yesterday. I've already mentioned the interception he allowed. It seems to me that Underwood should have been appearing at an angle from behind Townsend but he was late and Gregor didn't react well enough. If in doubt, give the ball some wellie. There are times when you have to forget the frills and play sound rugby.

Another vital basic is kick-offs. They have to go to where the forwards want them. Yesterday, our kick-offs and restarts were all over the place. In contrast, the Northern Transvaal kicking was near perfect. You allow teams to get a jump on you when you don't do the simple things efficiently.

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