|The Lions remain unconvincing
||[Jun. 16th, 2009|04:49 pm]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
Played 6 won 6...
But who on earth is going to be convinced by the manner of the Lions performances in their now completed build-up programme to Saturday's 1st Test against South Africa in Durban?
Unless the Springboks are going to be as rusty as an old garden gate because they've had three or four weeks without a competitive game, the 2009 Lions are in for one hell of a shock at the ABSA stadium on Saturday. The pace, dynamism and precision the Springboks normally bring to Test match rugby will break over these Lions' heads like some tropical storm. And the Lions still look totally unprepared for what lies ahead.
This was another stuttering, stumbling, unconvincing performance by the tourists. By the end, they had just about established clear water between themselves and the enthusiastic, committed but limited locals. But yet again, as has been the case for most of this tour, there was none of the authority, class and poise you expect from a Lions touring team.
Not until Wels h referee Nigel Owens gifted them a penalty try 12 minutes from the end, could Ian McGeechan's side be sure of victory. It was a shoddy, unconvincing performance and there are worrying weaknesses in this squad's play.
Chief among them is the breakdown where the Lions again conceded a stream of penalties, even from a northern hemisphere referee. Some of the offences committed were just dumb, stu pid – elementary errors which top class players ought to be able to purge from their game. But apparently not these Lions.
Players dived over the top off their feet, handled in the rucks, entered through the side and failed to move away after the tackle. This was a litany of errors that ought to have no part in professional players' make-up. Yet game after game in the build-up to Saturday's Test, the Lions have continued to concede penalties for these simple offences.
A few individuals had games to remember at the impressive new Port Elizabeth stadium. Keith Earls looked much more of a threat from full-back and ran some clever, penetrating lines on the counter attack. Simon Shaw worked like a Trojan up front and the Lions scrum 20 was overwhelmingly superior, culminating in their penalty try after the Southern Kings had collapsed a series of scrums near their own line. Ronan O'Gara reminded us of his tactical acumen, too, although for me, he has not done enough to shift Stephen Jones from the Test No. 10 jersey.
But most of the Lions play was sloppy, loose and too individualistic. Normally, you could say that this was clea rly the tourists midweek side, an obvious 2nd XV, but on this tour, so McGeechan has assured us, that is not so. Thus, every player yesterday, in theory at least, was still tilting at a Test place. Ye Gods ! I wouldn't rush to pick any of them in a Test side to play the world champions, unless I had to.
The plethora of mistakes was alarming, the disjointed nature of so much of 20the Lions play an on-going concern. By this stage of the tour, after six matches, you would expect a solid formula, a steely, committed base off which the Lions would go smoothly through the gears. Yet there was nothing of that nature on show yesterday. They allowed themselves to be dragged into an unholy scrap, a big physical exercise, because they lacked the class to rise above the physicality of the locals' challenge.
Again, the Lions dominated possession but utterly failed to stamp their authority and boss the play. They turned over ball throughout the game and watching Springbok coach Peter de Villiers must have found it hard to suppress a smile at the potential havoc his fast, dynamic back row men seem capable of achieving in Saturday's Test.
Four days now separate the Lions from the 1st Test. It may well be that the Springboks, by their own absurd policy of keeping all the Test players wrapped in cotton wool and inactive for weeks, have inadvertently closed the gap between themselves and these Lions.
But you have to suspect that, if the 'Boks produce anything near their best form, they will be far too good for these Lions.