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Lions backs against the wall

Opinion Posted 26th June 2009 view comments

After their second-half fight back fell agonising short in the first Test, the Lions head to Pretoria knowing that nothing but a win will do.

The tourists overcame a 26-7 deficit to finally lose the game 21-26 with many believing if the game was five minutes longer then victory would have been theirs.

The Lions management have made five changes to the side with Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Simon Shaw, Adam Jones and Matthew Rees coming into the side. And with the likes of Andrew Sheridan and Shane Williams on the bench, Miles Harrison believes they have the belief and the desire to square the series.

Shaw: deserves his chance

Shaw: deserves his chance

The Lions have made five changes for the second test Miles, are you happy with them?

MILES REPLIES: Yes I am; they have made the right changes there is no doubt about that. It is a matter of these guys delivering the victory that the others couldn't quite deliver in the first Test. I thought Rob Kearney came on and did really well. Injury has forced Lee Byrne out of the tour but I think if it had come down to a choice then Kearney may have just made it. If Byrne was fit there might have been a thought to play him at fullback and Kearney on the wing but Luke Fitzgerald really deserves his chance too. There have been one or two question marks about his kicking game. But he is a very talented rugby player and a very good finisher. Ugo Monye did not deliver on the finishing front last week - it is a brutal world but these are the choices that the management have to make and in a Test series you have to make those decisions.

If Burger was on the bench and you could bring him on then he could be that wildcard that could make a huge impact. I never thought I would say this but I think picking Schalk Burger may have been a mistake.

Miles Harrison
Quotes of the week

In the forwards well the same goes for Phil Vickery as for Monye. If a problem is identified then it has to be acted upon. There clearly was a problem in the scrum last week and they have changed it. I don't think it was all Vickery's fault and I think Paul Wallace was very keen to make that point in our coverage. It is not just down to the prop; it is about what is coming from behind and what is alongside in the frontrow. Having said that the Vickery/Mears frontrow combination did not work and they have both suffered because of that. I think the way Adam Jones and Mathew Rees played when they came on was very good and I am not surprised that it is an all welsh frontrow.

The backrow went pretty well and it all came down to the best person to partner Paul O'Connell at lock. I have to admit that when the team was announced for Tuesday's game and Simon Shaw was on the bench I thought Shaw would be the man - that was the way it turned out. I am delighted for him on a personal level. What a great story - twelve years on from being a Lions here in 1997 he eventually gets his Lions test match. He gets it because of his physical presence both in the scrum and in the maul. I think it is a very good call because they had to get some ballast in there.

The Lions bench is quite interesting too. We spoke about it last week where they went like for like. This week they seem to have gone for a different way.

MILES REPLIES: When you look at the bench you see the brutality of test match selection. We don't see Moyne, Mears or Vickery featuring. I take your point that there is a slight change in emphasis though. Andrew Sheridan deserves his shot because he has scrummaged very well on this tour. We may have been a bit disappointed with his contribution outside the scrum - he does not seem to be the Sheridan of old in the loose which is a bit frustrating. But if he is fit enough then he deserves a crack just for the way he has scrummaged on this tour. Ross Ford is also on the bench and is totally different to Lee Mears. Last week it was more like for like but that is not the case this week. Shane Williams comes in and I am delighted for him personally. There is a lot of heat on the IRB player of the year and a lot of expectation. Had the Lions been happening this time last year when he was ripping the South African's apart well he could possibly have been the star of the tour. He has not quite got into this tour even though he has had every opportunity - he has certainly gone looking for work but it is amazing how it has just not fallen for him. I still believe in him as a rugby player and I think in a situation like this he is the right call to have in the 22. In the majority of cases you do have to pick on form but in a game like this I think it would have been a mistake to leave him out.

What about South Africa's changes Miles?

MILES REPLIES: I was shocked when Brussow was substituted in the match. It just seemed to be the wrong call. Whether replacing him for this game is the right call remains to be seen. I do think he did enough to deserve another start but then you look at the name of the player who is replacing him and you think that is Schalk Burger coming in. If he is fit and he is raring to go then Burger is the type of player who could produce a really big performance in this type of game. Having said that was there any evidence of Burger being in any great form in the Super 14? The answer is no, but there was plenty of evidence that that Heinrich Brussow was in great form. The difference between having say a Shane Williams in your 22 and a Schalk Burger in your 22 is that I was not saying start with Shane Williams. If Burger was on the bench and you could bring him on then he could be that wildcard that could make a huge impact. I never thought I would say this but I think picking Schalk Burger may have been a mistake.

I was surprised they did not make any changes in the backline - there was certainly something wrong with the defence. I said to you last week that I thought that Jaque Fourie should start in place of Adi Jacobs and I think that again this week. There was something going wrong in the Bok midfield but equally there was something going very right with the Lions midfield of Roberts and O'Driscoll. South Africa would normally expect to defend that area much better and I think Jacobs had a pretty torrid time. From a Lions point of view I think they will be quiet pleased to see Jacobs there at 13 and not Jaque Fourie.

What about the Loftus Versveld atmosphere?

MILES REPLIES: I have watched games at this amazing stadium before and wondered if the opposition has any chance at all. It has that kind of intensity. But the Lions have a really good record here in test matches. They have played four and won three of them, although I would temper that again by saying that only New Zealand, England and the Lions have ever won a match at Loftus Versveld.

There is definitely a huge home factor here that the Lions will have to deal with and meet head on. As far as altitude is concerned it did hit them hard in that first game of the tour. They know what it is like now and have trained hard to combat the effects. The other thing I would mention is that we have been having terrible weather in Cape Town where the Lions have been training - most of the sessions have been in wet and soggy conditions. The game itself will be played on a really hard surface in dry conditions. I think a hard fast pitch will work for the Lions. In defeat last week they showed the way to victory and that is to play. They worried South Africa; they outscored them in tries and it will be the perfect surface for them. Let's also not forget that there will be an awful amount of Lions support at Loftus - the stadium will never have seen so much red.

South Africa may have won the first Test but the Lions finished the stronger side - who do you think has the mental edge going into this game?

MILES REPLIES:I am convinced if that game had been five minutes longer the Lions would have won it. The Lions must remember that it is a series and that it is not over yet. They have a chance still to win from here and that is very important. After that rolling maul went over for the try I expected South Africa to power on and make it such a scoreline that there would be no where for the Lions to go - not only in that match but possibly in the series. The fact that the lions kept playing and found space gives them every reason to hope. I am not saying that they are favourites and South Africa certainly have the capacity to increase their level of performance for the second Test.

But the Lions had no parity in the scrum at all - they were going backwards at every scrum and the rolling maul was a massive issue for them. Their lineout was not particularly clean and yet they still managed to do what they did.

The Lions have enough reasons to be positive which is so important when you are trying to win a series like this. It should be a cracking game.

Comments (10)

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Dave B says...

Mark Moran - how daft must you feel now. Shaw made POC look so inferior today (for the whole 80 mins) it was unbelievable. When will you Irish admit that O'Connell, despite being a good player, has had a poor tour, hasn't fronted up as a captain & isn't one of the best locks in world rugby. And 'oops' to Harry Potter too!!

Posted 01:45 28th June 2009

Sam Hollander says...

To "Northern hemisphere Bloke": all this talk of a scratch side embarrasing the boks is hard to believe. surely, the might of four countries put together should be able to beat one country who had not played any rugby in 6 months. imagine the southern hemisphere sides putting a team together. there would be no excuses about being a scratch team.

Posted 16:57 27th June 2009

Anthony Taylor says...

I totally agree with Alan Sweets statement.....we didn't have 3 tries disallowed, they weren't tries just very close attempts. The match was over 80 minutes and the Bok's came out on arguements about it. In order for us to win the second test we need to start sharper and maintain the pressure we exerted on them in the second half of the first test, but thats easier said than done.....after all they are a world class team....

Posted 12:09 27th June 2009

Shane Hartley says...

The boks will revert back to the approach of the bulls in the super 14, ie forward domination, easy win for the boks I say

Posted 09:39 27th June 2009

Mark Moran says...

everybody gives out about o' connell this and o' connell that but remeber one thing, we have crap hookers throwing crap balls, the lifters also leave a lot to be desired, (bring on john hayes, one man lifter) therefore freeing up other lifters to lift someone else therefore giving the boks something to think about. And why don't the management give donnacha o' callaghan a chance alongside paul to see how they interact like they always do for munster and ireland with whom they have won european cups and grand slam. one thing for sure is Donnacha will give 80 minutes of heart on the sleeve workrate not 60 minutes like shaw will do.

Posted 23:22 26th June 2009

Jack Carter says...

"Sabelo Ndebele says... To be honest no-one in the lions team has the X factor" Your comment is doing a great diservice to Brian O'Driscoll who has proven himself against any and every opposition as one of the best centres in the game. He'd be in the Boks line-up without a doubt. Jamie Robert looks like he'll hav the ability to be truely great also. Tommy Bowe is fast becoming a great player also, so before you go sharing your "honest" comment you should look at some of the players your overlooking. On a side note who cares about Brussow or Burger right now neither of them have a thing on Rocky Elsom

Posted 19:35 26th June 2009

Colm O'c says...

Its going to be rough, burger will give the lions 6 points in stupid penalties, styne will spend all day trying to drop goals instead of using the wingers, the pack will try and beat up the lions but in the end the fitness of the lions and the boot of o'gara in the last quarter will just about sneak it for the lions. to the brave and the faithfull nothing is impossible!!

Posted 16:40 26th June 2009

Jezza Jezza says...

Suzie just Suzie....boks got the lions number...check the stats from the game and see how many line breaks BOD and Roberts made compared to the boks ordinary centre pairing...don't think the boks backline made one all match, and the same will happen on Saturday..tend to agree with you re O;Connell...captain...where is he...still come on the lions...

Posted 14:05 26th June 2009

Etienne Groenewald says...

To Seb Augustine: Apparently we aren't the brightest team in the world. I would like to counter that statement with a quick look at the Lions Team. They decided to "take us on in the forwards" this series and fell badly short. Your management must be morons to believe Vickery is a good scrummager. Your captain is very weak in the lineouts and was easily exposed by Victor and Bakkies last week. Victor will once again read your line out's like a open book this wekend. Your loose trio don't understand that one has to stay on your feet at a ruck and maul. Your team couldn't counter a simple maul last weekend even though the Springboks last played the old NH rules at the end of 2009. The Lions players sounded like Lenny from "Of Mice and Men" - "which way did he go"..... and we aren't the brightest team in the world... Ha ha ha!!! I see a lesson in rugby coming the Lions way this weekend.

Posted 13:46 26th June 2009

Jezza Jezza says...

Boks by 15, Boks by the optimism of you Boks, don't forget you have a very ordinary coach, a very ordinary centre pairing who are frail when it comes to defence, and Roberts and BOD will run rings around them, so come 60 mins in the boks will be tired, the coach will make some odd substitutions and then the lions will roar and win by 10

Posted 13:31 26th June 2009

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