Eddie Jones: Sheridan should lead the attack on captain Smit

Calling the shots

The phoney war is almost over. When the Lions meet the Springboks in the first Test a week today, there will be a quantum leap in intensity.

Nothing the tourists have experienced since arriving in South Africa will bear the slightest resemblance to the magnitude of rugby or the scale of occasion they can expect on their return to Durban. This is always the case on a modern Lions tour, but the difference will be more dramatic than ever, thanks to a strangely muted programme of provincial fixtures.

Of course, when the itinerary was being planned, no one imagined the opening game in Rustenburg would clash with a Super 14 final down the road in Pretoria. There were also good local reasons for the relatively small crowd in Johannesburg, where the Ellis Park stadium is situated in a difficult part of town and transport is hard to find after dark. But gates were also a little disappointing in Bloemfontein last Saturday and in Durban on Wednesday night, and that must be down to the rocketing cost of tickets. English prices are being charged for these matches, and in tough economic times people tend to react negatively to a 150 per cent hike in face value.

Especially when the provincial teams are shorn of their box-office talent. I can understand the Springboks holding back those players pencilled in to start the first Test. But the Boks have 28 in camp at the moment, and I can't help feeling that the release of a dozen or so international-class operators back to the provinces would have transformed the quality of the action.

As it is, Ian McGeechan must base his decisions on the evidence available. I'd say we saw around 80 per cent of his Test side against the Sharks on Wednesday. The areas still under examination are the wings and the balance in the back five of the scrum, where selection will depend on how the coaches address some very obvious problems at the tackle area.

I also think there is a call to be made at loose-head prop, where the choice rests between an out-and-out heavyweight scrummager in Andrew Sheridan and a front-rower of the "third flanker" variety in Gethin Jenkins. I've said before that if the Springboks are serious about playing John Smit, their captain, at prop rather than hooker, they are presenting the Lions with a point of attack. I understand Jenkins' value around the field – certainly, his presence will boost the team's effectiveness in the loose – but a big psychological blow can be struck by getting after the opposing skipper and making his life difficult.

There are key individuals among the South Africans: the lock Victor Matfield and the scrum-half Fourie du Preez are two. Smit is very definitely another. Paul O'Connell will attack Matfield at the line-out; Mike Phillips will attempt to knock Du Preez out of his stride at the base of the scrum and around the fringes. On this basis there is a case for picking Sheridan against the Springboks' undisputed leader.

So much will depend on what the Lions attempt to do at the breakdown. They have problems there, for sure: David Wallace is not the greatest scavenger in the world, Martyn Williams is a half-and-half kind of open-side flanker and Tom Croft is not an on-the-ball player at all. Whoever plays, he won't find himself up against Heinrich Brussow, who made such a spectacular impact for the Free State Cheetahs last weekend. However, he may well have to get his head around Schalk Burger, who if fit, will play a big part in this series.

The Lions need all the help they can get in the tackle area, which is why I'd pick a hit-everything lock like Nathan Hines or Simon Shaw to play alongside O'Connell. When I was working with the Wallabies, we had David Giffin. He didn't carry a lot of ball, but with John Eales – or, latterly Nathan Sharpe – in the side, that didn't matter. David was the cement between the bricks: he cleaned out rucks, made his tackles, he worked himself into the ground. With no cast-iron ballwinner operating in the back row, the Lions must compensate somewhere. It might be hard on a good, athletic lock like Alun-Wyn Jones, but on a tour like this, needs must.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map