Peter Bills: Lions' ordinary display shows that their class is shallow

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The Independent Online

If the Cheetahs had shown just a little more patience in the 78th minute of this game, they could have claimed the scalp of the 2009 Lions.

In possession, driving off the forwards and just two points behind, it became clear that a late drop goal could snatch the game. All it needed was the patience by the Cheetahs forwards to keep driving forward, take the ball up to the Lions 22 and then release it.

Instead, they panicked. Full-back Louis Strydom was given the ball too far out and his attempt from close to the halfway line, sailed wide. It was a golden opportunity lost by the below strength Cheetahs but it told us more about the Lions than the locals.

So ordinary a display by the tourists just three days after the sumptuous performance in Johannesburg reminded us that the quality and class does not go very deep in this Lions squad. Take the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips and David Wallace out of the side and the Lions look a very different outfit.

A whole raft of criticisms can and should be directed at Ian McGeechan’s side yesterday. The support work wasn’t good enough, the off-loading in the tackle was largely absent and there was a lack of cohesion about the tourists. There was far too much going to ground without attempting to keep the ball alive, although in fairness the work off the ball was nowhere near the quality shown last Wednesday in Johannesburg.

Among the backs, we saw little of the control, authority or invention on view against the Golden Lions. Harry Ellis is a reserve scrum half at his club Leicester and James Hook wasn’t originally selected in the initial squad of 36. That tells its own story and the duo struggled to run the game in the way Phillips and Jones had done so smoothly and effectively three days earlier.

In fairness, that was due in part to the lack of quick ball from the breakdown. Both sides were guilty of laying all over the loose ball or playing it whilst off their feet. You might have thought the players would have got the message after Wayne Barnes sin-binned Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris for the offence after just 22 minutes. But the scrappy, often illegal play continued at the breakdown and hampered the release of the fast, quality ball backs need in the modern game.

For the Lions to lead 20-0 after the opening 20 minutes and then ‘lose’ the next 30 minutes 17-6, demands questions regarding their lack of control, lack of concentration and focus and their inability to rise above much of the mayhem and stamp their class and authority on the game.

You have to credit the Cheetahs for a gutsy, committed, spirited effort which posed some serious questions for what increasingly began to look like the Lions midweek side. The home team sought space and when they found it, had the gas to cause trouble. But in truth, a litany of errors undermined the Lions’ effort.

The blind side defence was too slow to scramble allowing Jean Louis Potgieter to put Danwell Demas over for the first Cheetahs try. Eight minutes later, the Lions lost control of the ball and Wian du Preez smashed his way over for another try.

This twin blow seemed to knock the confidence out of the Lions. Ferris was again a robust, committed performer who took his try well. But too many of his colleagues were guilty of the bludgeoning approach, shorn of subtlety and thought. Andy Powell lacked nothing in courage but he, like far too many Lions forwards, kept taking the ball to ground, without thought for the concept of the off-load.

At best it was modest, at worst inadequate. The Springboks won’t be quaking with fear, that’s for sure.

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