Lions trust Jones to kick doubt into touch

McGeehan admits his team have limited options with the boot as Boks look to score from distance in first Test today
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The Independent Online

Twelve years after Neil Jenkins, the so-called "ginger monster" from the Welsh valleys, kicked the British and Irish Lions to a series victory over the Springboks for only the second time in their history, the current tourists have admitted that their own kicking game may leave them vulnerable in this afternoon's vital opening Test here at King's Park.

Jenkins's countryman, the outside-half Stephen Jones, is the individual saddled with the responsibility today – and he will have no back-up if he is off-radar.

No other member of the British Isles starting line-up has ever succeeded with a place-kick at international level, although the Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll has dropped five goals in Tests. If Jones goes haywire, the Lions will have no choice but to introduce the heavier-scoring Ronan O'Gara off the bench, possibly at the expense of the inside centre Jamie Roberts or, more likely, of Jones himself.

"I accept that we don't have quite the range of goal-kicking that the Springboks will bring to the game in the shape of Ruan Pienaar and Francois Steyn and we have to be aware of it," admitted Warren Gatland, the assistant coach, yesterday. "They have a slight advantage over us in this area. I don't think distance will be a problem for Stephen when we play in Pretoria and Johannesburg, with the ball travelling further at altitude, but down here at sea-level he probably has a limit of 45 metres, 50 metres maximum. There was possibility of us using James Hook in this match, but his injury in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday blew that idea out of the water."

As head coach of Wales, Gatland is accustomed to having either Hook or Gavin Henson supporting Jones on the kicking front by taking the long-range shots. Here, where goal-kicking is likely to prove critical, the Lions are in "one-trick pony" territory.

On the tour of New Zealand four years ago, the Lions played Jonny Wilkinson, perhaps the finest marksman of them all, alongside Jones in midfield in the first Test, and paired Wilkinson and Henson in the second. Not that it did them much good as both matches were lost, comprehensively.

On the tour of this country in 1997, the Lions won through Jenkins's kicking despite losing the try-count 9-3. In that series, they had a second goal-kicking option on the field in the shape of Gregor Townsend, the outside-half from Scotland. Jenkins is now here, working with the back-room staff as a specialist coach.

No one doubts Jones' ability to accumulate points at important moments, but he is not a kicker of the siege-gun variety. The Boks, on the other hand, can bisect the sticks from anywhere within 60 metres. Steyn, playing at full-back today in front of his home crowd, has not been the first-choice marksman in many of his 27 Tests, but he has still scored 65 points for South Africa. Pienaar has scored five fewer in a similar number of appearances.