Lions must front up says Keith-Roach

Under the expert guidance of Graham Rowntree, the scrum can become the tourists' most potent weapon if they get their front row selection right, says one of the world's most respected scrummaging experts
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The Independent Online

One man will be watching closer than most when the British and Irish Lions pack down against South Africa for the first time on June 20.

Phil Keith-Roach, the man who single-handedly made England's set-piece the stuff of legend in the last decade and steered them to the World Cup in 2003, believes that Ian McGeechan's team's best chance of defeating the world champions is by targeting the scrum.

The newly appointed Sale Sharks coach, now in his 60s, thinks that Graham Rowntree - a player he worked closely with for years - is the right man to have been appointed specialist scrum coach for the Lions, in addition to his identical role with England. And he is excited by the prospect of the Lions turning the screw on the Springboks at the set-piece.

The former Rosslyn Park hooker predicts that 37-year-old Rowntree, who won 54 caps for his country and two Lions caps on the successful 1997 tour to South Africa, will have a great pool of players from which to select from in June.

"The Lions should have a formidable scrum against South Africa - and I think it is an area where the Boks have a slight weakness that can be exploited," says Keith-Roach. "But it is important that Graham gets those excellent component parts - especially the front row - working together in a short space of time.

"But, like in 1997, you never really know which combination will work in the front row until you get out there, so you have to take tried and tested players. Graham will be hoping to work with players who have had a good Six Nations and have an impressive international curriculum vitae."

Keith-Roach adds: "A consistently efficient, reliable and strong scrum is the foundation stone of any team, and the Lions can definitely attack the South African scrum. Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira should play loosehead for the Boks while on the tighthead side, which is the vital side of the scrum, South Africa have a number of different combinations. They can use Jannie Du Plessis, whose brother Bismarck could play at hooker as well as John Smit, or Brian Mujati - both are good, legal scrummagers.

"But that is not the case with CJ van der Linde. It is extraordinary that he has won so many caps (54). When he is under pressure on South African ball he regularly moves his right arm and collapses the scrum. Referees around the world have to wise up on what he is doing. The forwards coach Gary Gold will have to sort out that deficiency and make him bind properly, but I think that CJ has a lack of confidence - and the Lions can capitalise on that. They should target him as he is a liability. If selected loosehead Gurthro Steenkamp also has a questionable technique.

"Further back in the scrum the South Africans have huge, powerful men, but unless you get the props right then the scrum will be no good. The Lions will have the men who can cope with the physicality of the Boks but, with the right technique and guidance - as provided by Graham Rowntree - they could more than match them in the scrum and gain a great advantage."

On the appointment of Rowntree, Keith-Roach continues: "I'm not at all surprised that Graham has been chosen by the Lions. He used to take charge of the scrum on match days for England and proved himself as an international player.

"He was tough, durable and unbelievably determined and a really decent bloke to boot. There is no doubt there aren't many people more determined than him.

"There might have been people who could run faster and do this or that, but he has got a remarkable resolve and has a great knack of getting on with people. He has got it all in the bank, all the knowledge is there and he gets on with people - what more do you need, frankly?"