Tourists receive Royal dressing-down
Monday 01 June 2009
Chaka Willemse, coach of the unheralded Royal XV side who went within an ace of beating the British and Irish Lions in Rustenburg, was perfectly polite about the tourists in his after-match reflections.
This is not usually the way of it in South Africa, so when Jake White, who led the Springboks to the world title in 2007, laid into the Lions' performance with gusto yesterday, proper order was restored.
"That was almost their Test pack," said White, conveniently forgetting that at least half of the forward places are up for grabs and will remain so for another fortnight. "The way they played was by no means good enough to take on a Springbok pack. I was a bit surprised. I thought it was going to be a one-sided affair, that the Lions would dominate. There were not too many big names in that Royal XV, but playing rugby in South Africa is a different challenge. I'm sure there were lessons learnt."
Lessons were certainly learnt about the rigours of playing at altitude, on hard pitches. No fewer than seven of those who featured on Saturday were under treatment yesterday, their ailments ranging from a scratched cornea to blisters, from knee and ankle strains to dead legs. Keith Earls (right), the young Irish centre who had a rough time of it in Rustenburg, was the most seriously injured, his battered right shoulder joint ruling him out of Wednesday's meeting with the Golden Lions at Ellis Park.
On the plus side, the blind-side flanker Stephen Ferris has recovered from the calf strain that prevented him performing bench duty against the Royals, while Andrew Powell, the Welsh No 8 who dropped out of the starting line-up with a swollen hand and feared his tour was over, should resume training today. James Robson, the Lions doctor, dismissed stories that Powell's problems stemmed from an insect bite, although he added: "It may be that Andrew spotted an insect on someone's head and swatted it, thereby tying the two things together."
The Lions hierarchy refused to blame their team's below-par performance on the poor attendance and consequent lack of atmosphere in Rustenburg, caused by a fixture clash with the Super 14 final played in nearby Pretoria. "For players wearing the red jersey, that sort of thing shouldn't have an effect," said the assistant coach Rob Howley.
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