British and Irish Lions Chances Still Unclear

James MortimerAnalyst IJune 4, 2009

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 03: JC Janse van Rensburg of the Golden Lions is pulled back by Lee Mears of the British & Irish Lions during the match between Golden Lions and British & Irish Lions held at Coca Cola Park June 3, 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

A record 74-10 romp over the Golden Lions gave the fabled tourists their second win of their tour, eclipsing the score line over the same team set in the 1955 Lions visit.

While Robin Thompson's British and Irish Lions played Transvaal (as the Golden Lions used to be named), the Irish-born captain’s team would eventually draw the test series 2-2 against a very strong Springbok team in what was considered one of the better Lions units.

While the 64-point winning score line was impressive against the Golden Lions, and the Brian O’Driscoll-led side looked many notches above the average performance put in against a Royal XV, it is hard to draw too much from it.

The Royal XV were said to be the weakest side that the B&I Lions would face on tour.  In theory, this was somewhat untrue.  Largely made up of the Vodacom Cup-winning Griquas, they put in a fabulous performance.

Good enough to record a historic upset, but the tourists finished hard and fast to save themselves any embarrassment, in a display that would have had most rugby purists putting their mortgages on a Springbok test series whitewash.

They then turn it around and tear apart their South African Super 14 namesakes, in a performance that had both Coach Ian McGeechan and O’Driscoll gushing superlatives.  But it is necessary for the visitors to put this in perspective.

Getting excited about a result like this will do them no favours against what will be a very good Springbok test team.

The SA Lions, before and during the match were a rabble.

Head coach Eugene Eloff was dumped as head coach just days before the match, in a display of horrific timing by Golden Lions CEO Manie Reyneke.

This was done after Jake Whites Company “winning ways” did an audit on the team, and found the Eloff was in a sense, the root of all the issues.

The Golden Lions released a statement saying “It immediately became apparent that in order for the GLRU to move forward, they would have to make immediate changes to allow for a proper build up for the British & Irish Lions vs. Lions game and the Currie Cup."

A proper build up?

Surely an analyst of White’s capabilities would have known of the disruptive effect it would have on the team. 

We were then treated to a woeful display of rugby and inept tactical nous from a team bereft of its most attacking players, and even with former test player Andre Pretorius at the helm, were overrun by a B&I Lions team with a point to prove.

The review and fate of the former Transvaal side, a rugby province with so much great rugby history, will hopefully occur with more efficiency for their long-suffering supporters.

Meanwhile, for the illustrious visitors, while not many more questions were answered, at least we have seen what the team can do when combining well.

We have now seen enough from key players to know that if the right team is selected, this side could cause issues for the World Champions.

Lee Byrne and Rob Kearney both appear to be of the class that at the minimum both men deserve to be in the test 22.

Ugo Monye and Tommy Bowe looked the goods, and on that form looked to be good enough to be the starting wing three quarters.

O’Driscoll will be starting centre, and it appears Jamie Roberts early tour form may kill off any challenge at second five eighth from Riki Flutey.

Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara seem to be evenly poised, with perhaps the Welsh standoff having the edge due to a greater combination with the men inside and outside of him.

Mike Phillips should be starting scrum half, if for anything the increased physicality he brings to the table.

In the back row, Tom Croft put his hand up and showed the insanity with his early non selection, but who his partners will be to combat a terrifying Springbok loose forward trio is still a difficult question to answer.

Paul O’Connell will be one lock, but should take note from the efficiency of how Nathan Hines and Alun-Wyn Jones went about their work, especially with their work in the loose.

And in the front row, there seems to be numerous options, with the quality of the B&I Lions scrum work looking of genuine world class stock.  The question will be how much they will rely on their tight forwards to get through a high level of work around open play. 

Will McGeechan look for just scrummaging qualities from his front row, or some skill with the ball in hand?

Next Lions match:

Cheetahs V Lions

Date: Saturday, June 6
Venue:Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
Kick off: 15.00 Local time

Cheetahs:15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Danwel Demas, 13 Corne Uys, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JW Jonker, 10 Jaques- Louis Potgieter, 9 Tewis De Bruyn, 8 Hendro Scholtz  (captain), 7 Francois Uys, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 David De Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian Du Preez Replacements:16 Richardt Strauss, 17 WP Nel, 18 Frans Viljoen, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Gerrie Odendaal, 21 Louis Strydom, 22 Fabian Juries.