Edwards admits there is a lot of work to be done

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Shaun Edwards admitted the British and Irish Lions looked rustier than he had expected after they struggled to victory over a Royal XV side in the opening match of their South African tour yesterday.

The Lions came back from 18-3 down to complete a 37-25 win in Rustenburg thanks to late tries from Lee Byrne, Alun Wyn Jones and Ronan O'Gara.

The result flattered a disappointing Lions side and Edwards, the assistant coach, said there was work to do in the build-up to the coming Test matches. "We were a little bit shocked in the first half that they [Royal XV] went into such a commanding lead.

"We've got a few areas to work on over next few weeks but its all building up to the Test matches and it's the Test matches that matter. In some cases, you've got lads playing their first game for the Lions and nerves do come into that – so next time we'll have no excuse."

South Africa's Bulls – playing just down the road from the Lions – stormed to their second Super 14 title in three years with a record-breaking 61-17 victory over the Waikato Chiefs in Pretoria. It was by far the biggest margin of victory in a final in the competition's 14-year history, surpassing the ACT Brumbies' 36-6 win over the Natal Sharks in 2001.

The Bulls won the 2007 final by a single point and a tight contest was expected again but the home side made a mockery of the pre-match predictions by scoring eight tries against the New Zealanders.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has played down talk of personal rivalry between himself and his predecessor, new USA coach Eddie O'Sullivan, ahead of their sides' meeting in Santa Clara, California today.

"This is a Test match between Ireland and the United States," replied Kidney, when asked about the coaching head-to-head. "Like all Eagles sides we have to match them physically, because they're always fit. It's like all Test matches – there's a lot to play for, world ranking points. We could lose a lot and likewise, America could rise up the rankings from where they are."

Kidney has kept the same squad as last week. The one change to the starting line-up sees Leinster-bound prop Mike Ross come in for his first start on the tighthead side, with Munster's man-mountain Tony Buckley switching to loosehead and Tom Court dropping to the bench.

The switch means Ireland will take to the pitch at Buck Shaw Stadium boasting their heaviest ever front row, with tour captain Rory Best, Ross and Buckley tipping the scales at a combined 57 stone.

Ian Whitten, Darren Cave, Ian Dowling, Ian Keatley, John Muldoon and Niall Ronan, who all gained their first caps against Canada, have retained their starting places, while Sean Cronin, Niall O'Connor and Denis Hurley are three more potential new caps on the bench.

Kidney added: "We thought that it would be better to give an opportunity for the same players and combinations to find their feet a bit more with some more sessions to work off. This tour and also the Churchill Cup is all about building a base of experience."

Without a number of their more well-known faces, including last year's captain Todd Clever and Biarritz flyer Taku Ngwenya, O'Sullivan has dotted eight new caps around his first Test squad.

O'Sullivan, appointed to his new position in March, said: "It is an honour to face Ireland in my first Test as Eagles head coach. It will be a little strange to face off against a team that I know so well, but at the same time for me that will make the occasion even more special."

With Wales to come next week and then the Churchill Cup, O'Sullivan needs to knit together a team before two crucial Rugby World Cup qualifier matches against Canada in July.

"Ireland are coming off a Test against Canada, which gives them an advantage, but our players have to start somewhere and I'm confident they'll give it their all in this first Test of the season," he added.