After the dust and sand had settled on the Nelson Mandela Bay battle in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, there was a sigh of relief across the rugby world that the Southern Kings had ended the phony war and the real deal is now upon the Lions tour.
Mike Greenaway reports for The Star:
In Durban on Wednesday Lions assistant coach Rob Howley stopped short of saying that the confrontational Kings had done the Lions a favour with a wake-up call ahead of Saturday’s first Test as to the physical reality that stronger South African teams can dish out.
But he admitted that the Lions need to brush up on their breakdown work and that the Springbok selection of Heinrich “Ball Burglar” Brussow would influence the selection of the Lions team that will be announced on Thursday.
“That was the most physical game we have played,” Howley said after confirming that two injured players had been removed from the selection frame in utility back James Hook (neck) Euan Murray (ankle), with the former a big loss because he was due to cover Nos10, 12, 13 and 15 off the bench and would also have been a back-up goal-kicker.
“We anticipated what the approach of the Kings players would be at the tackle area, and they did disrupt us. It is an area we must improve on because it is going to be hugely important on Saturday,” Howley said.
“We can talk about the referee and the opposition but a lot of it is our responsibility and we need to make better decisions on the ball than we did against the Kings.
“There were many off-the-ball incidents that, for reasons we cannot explain, were not picked up by the officials. There were two clear incidents involving Gordon D’Arcy, for instance.
“We are just happy to have got away with a win in difficult circumstances and not to have picked up any more injuries than we did. We would like to draw a line under that game and move on,” Howley said.
When asked about how the Lions could improve on their work at the breakdown, Howley said: “It is not a case of attitude or intensity. We need to improve our support play.
“We need to stay on our feet longer. We tend to go to ground too quickly. It is that one or two seconds delay that allows a guy like Brussow to get in and steal the ball.
“The encouraging thing is that this aspect of the game was much better for us against the Sharks when most of the likely Test team played.”
Brussow has clearly got into the psyche of the Lions since getting under their skins in Bloemfontein.
“He got picked on the back of how he played against us,” Howley said. “He is a totally different player to Schalk Burger, who is more of a ball carrier while Brussow is an out-and-out fetcher.
“His performance for the Cheetahs against us was very efficient. He turned a lot of ball over and when we have not played a fetcher, we have struggled more in contact areas so that will have an impact on selection.”
Welshman Martyn Williams is likely to be picked to go up against Brussow.
Howley said that apart from the late development regarding the Springbok openside flank position, the Lions had predicted the Springbok team that was announced on Tuesday.
“We knew they would pick Francois Steyn at fullback, (Adrian) Jacobs at No.13 and Ruan Pienaar at No.10,” he said.
“Steyn is a talented player but I’m not sure when he last played fullback – we are having to look hard to find footage so we can develop a kicking strategy to put him under pressure.”
Howley also highlighted Pienaar’s lack of game time before concluding: “The last competitive game the Boks played – apart from Namibia – was against England in November so there is going to be rustiness while we will be battle-hardened.”Tweet