Another exclusive feature article on the Lions tour from the Supporters Club’s very own Adrian O’Farrell. This week Adrian gets literary with some advice for the Lions on how to progress after defeat in the first Test. Bring in a French man? Login or sign up to the Supporters Club to read this article.
“A person who doubts himself is like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies and bear arms against himself. He makes his failure certain by himself being the first person to be convinced of it.”
Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
The boy Dumas knew a thing or two about life. I don’t know how well up on sport he was, but if the old writing thing hadn’t worked out for him I reckon he could have done a nice trade in sports psychology.
As it was, he had to make his fame through the writing of a few moderately successful books – there was one about a Count from Monte Cristo and another one about some blokes calling themselves, ‘The Three Musketeers.’
After the first Test, the Lions can interpret the evidence in either of two ways.
They can choose to believe that the first 50 minutes contained the essential truth that when the Springboks are focused and with all their major artillery on the field, they can boss the Lions pack around the park at will.
Their set pieces are massively superior, their mauling gave the Lions ‘a mauling’ and their defence across the park was iron-clad.
Alternatively, the Lions can choose to believe that when they managed to put tempo on the ball, they created a lot of opportunities and once they address the problems in their set pieces then they have the beating of this rather wooden lot.
And the good news is that the solutions to their problems became all the more apparent as the match unfolded.
There are a couple of no brainers. Adam Jones for Phil Vickery (I am pleased to point out that last week I said Adam Jones was a little hard done by in selection – not bad for a back!).
Matthew Rees in for Lee Mears – a bit harsh on Mears as he has been better over the course of the tour, but it is all about the Tests and specialists have to perform at their specialist tasks or face the consequences.
In the second row, neither Alun Wyn Jones nor Paul O’Connell had days to remember and the lack of bulk in going for two number fives didn’t help when it came to countering the ‘Boks maul and at the breakdown.
The captain ain’t going so it’s down to Donncha O’Callaghan or Simon Shaw to partner O’Connell.
To me, it makes more sense to use the more tried and tested partnership that also has a natural number two jumper that you can go to if the lineout is once more under pressure. O’Callaghan it is, so.
The back row was disappointing in that David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip didn’t seem to get into the match in a ball-carrying sense and once again they cannot be said to have won the duel at the breakdown when the match was alive before Peter De Villiers’ rash of substitutions.
The stats indicate that the Lions owned the ball, the Boks made much more tackles and the Lions much more passes.
The ball protection from the Lions was much better than it had been.
However, in the belief that the brains trust will want to go down the route of maintaining a high tempo to drain the big ‘Bok pack and maximise the Lions strength at centre, I believe that they should go with Martyn Williams from the start of this one, although his selection to play against the Emerging Springboks suggests not.
Mike Philips has never been the one for me. Too slow to fetch the ball out of rucks and too ponderous in the pass.
However, the boy can spot a gap and definitely keeps the back row honest. No argument there, then.
On the basis of my above comments about specialists performing at their specialist functions, one might expect me to say that Stephen Jones should also go for his goalkicking performance, but…this one is a mite trickier.
He does seem to get the most out of Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll, whether that is his alignment or greater disposition to move the ball rather than kick it.
Speaking of which, the two centres have been little short of astonishing in their repeated ability to cut successive opponents apart. ‘Nuff said.
It is nothing short of extraordinary that O’Driscoll should produce such a season at this stage of his career. Now if he can engineer a series win from 1-0 down in South Africa with two ‘Tests at altitude…
It could yet be an all-Irish back-three, given the performances of both Rob Kearney and Ugo Monye.
It would be harsh on Lee Byrne, given his form all season and the unfortunate injury to his left foot. Either way, Kearney’s confidence will have come on greatly from that outing.
Tommy Bowe was not as involved as he would have liked. One slashing break when he couldn’t quite link up and a penalty conceded at a cost of three points were the standout contributions. However, he has enough in the bank not to be under threat.
Monye doesn’t however, and there is a real possibility that Luke Fitzgerald will get the nod here.
Ian McGeechan won’t have been impressed with the technical flaw that saw him twice hold the ball under the wrong arm at key moments.
While Fitzgerald had a ropey kicking performance against the Southern Kings, the coach will know that he is a better natural kicker of the ball than Monye, so to exclude him on that basis makes no sense.
Ultimately, however, this week is as much about shoring up the belief of the Lions as it is addressing the technical flaws.
There are grounds for belief, as alluded to by many of the players in their post-match comments. However, it’s one thing saying it – you have to truly feel it.
My hope is that McGeechan has the courage and, yes, the belief to focus on moving the ball about the park. He has more pure footballing talent at his disposal than de Villiers has.
Faith begins where reason sinks. We haven’t yet reached the point of needing faith. McGeechan needs a bit of Alexandre Dumas about him – a complete lack of self doubt – and a few Musketeers.
P.S. I know, I know – but I’ll get to the Ireland ‘A’ team’s sensational win over the Saxons shortly. For now, suffice to say that if the New Zealand Maori had achieved that score against them, you’d say ‘fair enough’.