George Hooks Lions Video Blog After 3rd Test Lions 28 South Africa 09

By admin · July 7, 2009 · Filed in George Hook's Video Blog · Comments Off


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Brent Popes Lions Player Watch After The 3rd Test

By admin · July 7, 2009 · Filed in Brent Pope's Player Watch Blog · Comments Off

It is was perhaps ironical that it was the Springboks who wore armbands with the words “Justice” written on it them (in support of their suspended lock Bakkies Botha) when the Lions could have just as easily worn the same arm band in terms of at least deserving a test win, possibly the series?
Teams do not have a God given right to win matches, but prior to this third and final test, you felt that this Lions in particular, deserved a rub of the green. Largely written off prior to this tour, the brave and wounded Lions came within inches of emulating the 1997 side in a “would have, could have” test series. After two test matches that will rank with some of the most enthralling battles in years, it was the Springboks who made the most of their chances, and perhaps unfairly lead the series 2 nil, but they still wanted a whitewash, as  revenge for the perceived unfair treatment of Botha, and more importantly to erase the painful memories of 1997. What they got was a Lions backlash of epic proportions.
In the end it was the Lions who produced a magnificent 80 minute performance, to not only justify this particular Lions tour, but also ensure that the Lions ethos and future is still in good hands despite a long and arduous season. In the end the 28-9 point win meant that on try count (7-5) and on points aggregate, the Lions were probably the better and more consistent team over the 3 match series- yet they still lost. Sport is so often about the “if’s and buts”, just remember Stephen Jones’s last minute penalty dipping under the bar to give Ireland their Grand slam winning title? Maybe in retrospect the Lions should have won this series, but they didn’t, and if the Springboks had needed to win the third game they certainly wouldn’t have made 10 changes they did. Still the Lions could still only do what was asked of them, and they did it with some aplomb yesterday. Paul O’Connell, so often unfairly criticised on this tour by the English media, was magnificent, both as a player and as a captain. It is funny that the difference between O’Connell emulating the feats of such great Lions Series winning Captains as Willie John McBride (74) and Martin Johnson (97) was in inches not miles. In fact as a player alone, O’Connell was probably superior in many regards to Johnson, and a Jeremy Cuscott drop goal verses a last minute Morne Steyn penalty was the only difference in the end. In my opinion apart from his general play, bravery and quiet achievement, O’Connell has led this team with distinction and pride. Remember not one story of any off the field misdemeanors has filtered back to these Islands, and for the most part on and off the field, the Lions team has been well disciplined, courteous and fiercely proud, this has to had something to do with O’Connell’s leadership.
For once the Lions had the rub of the green in this match, firstly with the scrum penalties going their way early on, a late disallowed Springbok try, and a timely interception by Ugo Monye that could have just as easily been a try at the other end of the field for the Springboks, who were hot on attack before Monye intervened. England’s prop Phi Vickery has weathered a media storm since the first test (myself included) and spoke during the week of the importance of this match to his creditability, and he delivered, not only in the scrums where the added weight of Simon Shaw aided him, but also in his around the field play, with one gang tackle on Springbok No 8 Ryan Kankowski a highlight of the props welcomed rejuvenation.
A patched up Lions backline that contained an ex Kiwi, turned Englishman and now playing next season in France Riki Flutey, and Irish winger Tommy Bowe just showed again how weak the Springboks are in this area, with not a lot of creativity after their well documented kicking game. Flutey had a peach of a match, using his side stepping running to good effect, and pulling off some tremendous tackles. Bowe was also responsible for the two tackles that denied the Boks try’s in the corner, and despite looking a little uncomfortable in an unaccustomed position of centre, Bowe did remarkably well, and was not that far down the pecking order as the overall player of the tour.
Rob Kearney again delivered, with another first half performance that just continued on from where he left off last week. Kearney will return home as one of the most talented footballers in the world, and with the rugby world at his feet, he is now a certainty for the Irish no 15 jersey, and apart from injuries should not appear on the wing again, for any team. On the other wing the diminutive Shane Williams finally found the type of form that made him the world’s best player last year. Williams has struggled to replicate his high billing on this tour, mainly because he is just too small in a country that favors big, straight running backs, but given some space Williams can get thought the smallest of gaps, and while his two tries were plated up for him by the outstanding Jamie Heaslip( my man of the match just ahead of Mike Phillips and O’Connell) and then  Riki Fluety’s sleight of hand, William’s experience still put him the right place at the right time, and it was just reward for William’s constant following up.
Like Vickery, Ugo Monye had a point to prove after making a hash of his opportunities in the first test, and his timely intercept try really spelt the end of the match for the hosts. If the Springboks had scored when Monye intercepted, then they may have clawed their way back into this match, but Monye, like Brian Habbana on so many occasions, took his chance. Stephen Jones and Mike Phillips in particular were both outstanding, with Philips surely the most aggressive defender in his position in the world, while Jones moved onto Phillips passes at pace. In the Lions pack the outstanding player was Jamie Heaslip, who set up one try with a never say tackled movement, and then saved another minutes later with an over-head save. Heaslip tackled, burst up field with the ball in hand and assisted Martyn Williams at the breakdown. The South Africans have a new found respect for a young player that is now challenging the best No 8’s in the world. A few years ago Heaslip was out bid as the “world under age player of the year” by All Black No 8 Jeremy Kaino, this Lions series, Heaslip has left the man with the silver fern in his wake, and as long as the Leinster man stays sound and fit he is going to be a phenomenal player. Alongside Heaslip, England’s Joe Worsley emptied the Springboks with every tackle, and won some valuable lineout ball to boot, while open side flanker Martyn Williams showed that maybe he should have been selected to start in the first two tests, with a display of ground hog play that the Lions badly needed. Shaw and O’Connell were majestic in the engine room, and Shaw in particular has given new hope to those players thinking that 30 years of age is on the downhill slope for a test player, think again? Shaw will be 37 soon, and who would bet on not seeing him in an English shirt next season.
It was a fitting end to a magnificent test series, and a series that brought back memories of the amateur days where team spirit and determination can still win the day. The Lions Players and Management can be proud of what they have achieved, and like Paul O’Connell said post match, “to win in the Southern Hemisphere may lead to greater days for the home unions” Lets hope so? From a South African prospective, the World Champions looked far from that, with a pedestrian backline that when missing some key players look well short on creative play. Teams will work on combating the Springboks kicking game as Kearny and co did, and they have a lot of rebuilding to do before another tilt at the World Cup in 2 years.
How the Irish rated:
Rob Kearney. 8.5
  Now rivals ALL BLACK  Mils Muliania as the best No 15 in the world game. After one of the great fullback performances of all time last week, Kearney started this week as he had finished last weeks match. Brilliant on the counter attack, and in the air, Kearney must be a candidate for the overall player of the tour. Came in originally under Lee Byrnes shadow, but has now emerged well ahead of the Welshman. Made a few small mistakes late in the match, but overall another brilliant display.
Tommy Bowe 7:
 Has been a revelation on this tour, and in Irelands Grand Slam winning season this year. Bowe was made to play in an unaccustomed position of centre, and did it reasonably well. Made a few central trusts, one of which could have resulted in a try, but understandably struggled with the change in position at times. Defended heroically, and was the last man defending in two of the Springbok’s main try scoring chances.
Jamie Heaslip: 9:
  My “Man of the match” An absolute complete display from the modern day No 8. Heaslip is athletic, intelligent, hardworking, and is the new fit for all future No 8s.
 An excellent tour that defies his age
Paul O’Connell. 8:
 Led his team magnificently and took lineout ball with ease. Looked like a leaping Jack Salmon when steeling the opposition throw and carried more ball that any other forward. Perfected two or 3 ruck turnovers and spoke articulately after the game. Well respected by everybody on the tour. Ireland can be proud of his massive input.
John Hayes: 7
 The “Bull” Hayes gets to savor a test win in another red jersey, and he will dine out on it for life. A long way from the tractor in Bruff, but played his part, by shifting tiring Springbok bodies out of the way like he was picking up litter off the street. No coincidence that the Lions snaffled more lineout ball when Hayes was on the park.
David Wallace:
 Made a cameo performance, but was not going to match the heroics of Martyn Williams. Like the other Irish players a fantastic tour.
Player of the match: Jamie Heaslip:
Turing Point:  The first scrum and Ugo Monyes intercept try that finally saw the Springboks out the gate.

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Brent Popes Lions Player Watch After 2nd Test – Lions 25 South Africa 28

By admin · June 29, 2009 · Filed in Brent Pope's Player Watch Blog · Comments Off


12 years ago a young looking Jeremy Cuscott launched a last minute dropkick that broke the hearts of a rugby mad nation, this time it was Springbok replacement outhalf Moune Steyns chance for immortality, as his last second penalty kick meant that the Lions dreams of forcing a “do or die” game next week sadly went with it.

The tale of this lost series was that the Lions just couldn’t play for the full 80 minutes, and while they dominated for the last 40 minutes of the first test, and the first 60 minutes of this one it was the lack of clinical finishing that eventually cost them.
 Over his illustrious career Ronan O’Gara has enjoyed some massive highs, and as a goal kicker he has often been the one to step up and take the responsibility for a win or a loss.
 Yesterday, Ronan O’Gara’s last minute penalty(correct but cruel) realistically cost the Lions a chance at squaring the series. The real question is, was O’Gara right to keep the play alive with a speculative Garryowen when a kick to touch would have seen the end of the game and a creditable draw? I think O’Gara’s decision was the correct one, given that just minutes before the Lions had gone deep into South African territory and managed to convert a penalty, thus forcing the draw.

 O’Gara’s intention was to get good field position and then hope it was the Springboks who infringed, and he went into the air in an effort to win the ball back. O’Gara simply wanted to win the match, and who knows on another day it may just have may have worked.

 It will still sit heavy on the shoulders of O’Gara, simply because this is not a Munster or Irish team where his fellow players will remember the days that O’Gara won matches for them on his own, but rather a composite collection of four home union players, who may not be so sympathetic. One must also take into account the Lions growing injury list, and with the Lions down two of their attacking kingpins Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll that may have had also some bearing on O’Gara’s last minute decision? In the end it was still a game that the Lions could have won, and some weak Lions tackling allowed replacement Springbok centre Jacque Fourie to work some magic in just 3 inches of space. Fourie should never have been allowed to score, and probably wouldn’t have if either O’Driscoll or Roberts had still been on the park.

The game started in controversial enough circumstances with Springbok Flanker Schalk Burger being yellow carded for eye gouging on Luke Fitzgerald. Burger along with  secondrow Botha has been cited, and Burger will play no part in this years Tri-Nations Series. Burger’s overall performance in the match was poor anyway, and when  replacement Heinrich Brussow came on the park later in the second half, the Springboks suddenly began to dominate the loose ball again. In the first half the Lions were magnificent to a man, but one player was exceptional, Irish fullback Rob Kearney. Kearney put in one of the finest fullback displays ever seen on any rugby pitch, and his catching of the high ball was GAA schooled from the top drawer. The South Africans only had one game plan in the first 60 minutes or so, and it was to kick, and with Kearney and his all Irish back three of Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe taking everything the Boks could launch at them, it looked as if the Lions would hold on. Stephen Jones was doing his part by punishing the home team every time the Lions got into Springbok territory, while the South African kickers were going to pieces under the pressure until the arrival of hometown hero Steyn, who not only converted Fourie’s try from the sideline, but then coolly banged over the winning kick from about 50 metres.

There can be no criticism of the Lions selection prior to this match, as the visitors scrum not only held up, but dominated until they became uncontested (something that also helped the Springboks) and the whole Lions backline look sharp with every attack. Simon Shaw was like a concrete pillar at every kickoff and fully justified his selection at 36 years of age, while players like David Wallace (first half in particular) and Jamie Heaslip (defensively) were turning in massive individual performances. The Lions were not helped in the secondhalf by the ridiculous ruling of uncontested scrums, and while injury prevention is key in this game, especially in the area of the front row, something needs to be done in accommodating more front row players on the bench. Once the scrums became uncontested, the South Africans had one of the best No 8’s in the world Pierre Spies to take full advantage of a more secure platform, and it was the big No8 who started to make valuable yardage off a Springbok scrum that had been struggling badly in the first spell.

With the Lions tiring badly into the last 20 minutes but clinging on thanks to Jones’s boot the loss of their midfield Generals O’Driscoll and Roberts was the eventual death nail, it meant a complete reshuffle of the Lions backline and it was hugely disruptive especially in defence. You still have to take your hat off to the Springboks however, they were on the rack and they wouldn’t give up. For the first half they were on the brink of collapse, and facing a third winner takes all test against a confident and buoyed up Lions team in a rugby mad country that would not have accepted that. The Springbok public wanted quick revenge for 1997, and a loss yesterday would have meant a week of criticism for the home team and some of its players like Botha and Burger. So the Lions tour is effectively now over, with just pride to play for next week. The Lions will want to avoid a series whitewash, but it’s hard to see what sort of team the Lions will start with next week, in fact with such a high attrition rate yesterday, what sort of side is actually left?
 Some questions will emerge today (especially from sections of the English media) as to whether Paul O’Connell  was the right man to lead the Lions? In my opinion, he was. O’Connell is a quietly spoken man who always gives of his best, be it for Munster, Ireland and the now the Lions. His Lions team in the two tests were for the most part disciplined and courageous, and what people forget is that unlike the likes of  Willie John McBride and Martin Johnston, O’Connell did not have any other National Captains in the forwards to assist him in some of the key decisions. Martin Johnston had the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio, Keith Wood and others to call on for advice, players for whom captaining national sides was second nature, O’Connell had a forward pack with little or no experience in this area.
 In the end it was a fantastic test match that will live in the memory for years, it was just an unfortunate result and an unfortunate moment for Ronan O’Gara, who will take things on the chin and bounce back as he has always has.

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George Hooks Lions Video Blog After 2nd Test Lions 25 South Africa 28

By admin · June 28, 2009 · Filed in George Hook's Video Blog · 13 Comments »



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George Hooks Lions Video Blog Before The 2nd Test On Saturday 27th June

By admin · June 26, 2009 · Filed in George Hook's Video Blog · 2 Comments »



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George Hooks Lions Video Blog After Lions 13 Emerging Springboks 13

By admin · June 24, 2009 · Filed in George Hook's Video Blog · 3 Comments »




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Brent Pope Lions Player Watch After Lions 13 Emerging Springboks 13 On Tuesday

By admin · June 24, 2009 · Filed in Brent Pope's Player Watch Blog · Comments Off


Like most of the latter games on this tour, this game against the emerging Springboks was about a couple of things, firstly the assessment of a few players that the selectors would be considering for Saturdays do or die clash with South Africa, and secondly to bounce back to with a win and build confidence for the squad. Neither experiment really materialised in conditions more suited to the West of Ireland than the usually sub- tropical South African Cape.

In fact the outstanding Lions player on the night was a player who will almost certainly have played his last game on this tour, Keith Earls. Earls will be delighted to have finished the tour on a high, especially after his dubious start. I said before this tour that Earls would emerge as a fullback first, and then as a winger but definitely not a centre? Earls while understandably shaky under the artic conditions early on was excellent in taking his try and his long kicks to touch, especially from an educated and booming right boot. Earls is a massive young talent, and has fully justified his selection as the youngest player on this tour (after Leigh Halfpenny’s early demise) In 4 years time Earls will be on the Lions tour again especially if he continues his upward projectile and he will be a much better player for the experience.

Other players to benefit from the match was out of form Welsh winger Shane Williams who showed some glimpses of his previous ability, Luke Fitzgerald, who while starved for ball always looked a bundle of energy. Ronan O’Gara did enough to make the outhalf spot his with a well controlled performance while England’s Simon Shaw and Ireland’s Donncha O’Callaghan are still fighting neck and neck for the second row spot. Martyn Williams will probably confine David Wallace to the bench with an excellent performance in the loose and on the ground, while the front row will surely be an all Welsh affair of Jones, Rees and Jenkins.

As a match it was tight if not error ridden, with a number of balls being spilled in contact, obviously not helped by the slippery conditions. The Lions should have put the game beyond doubt after leading by 10 clear points, but like so many other times on this tour they “gave the sucker an even break” and let the emerging young Boks back into the game. In fact overall the young Springboks kicking game was far better than the Lions, and at least they gave their chasers a target to pursue. The Lions, O’Gara and Earls apart, seemed to kick aimlessly far too often, either too deep or too ineffectual. Up front and in the scrums the Lions as they have all tour dominated, with the new tourists John Hayes and Shaun Payne doing well, considering they had just got off the plane. Scotland’s Nathan Hines did not do enough after a promising start to the tour, while Donncha O’Callaghan has come on leaps and bounds. Simon Shaw has made an impact nearly every time he has come onto the park, and with his extra height, experience and bulk he may get the nod for Saturday. Shaw’s tackle count for a man that turns 37 later this year has been a feature of his play.

In the end the last minute try and the sideline conversion by Willem de Waal was probably justified given their second half dominance, but it was still sloppy finishing by the tourists, who looked to have done enough to win a tight game. Will it affect the morale of the test team, it’s hard to say, but probably not? The Lions know what they have to do come Saturday; they must obviously get parity in the scrums and mauls and then like last week convert possession into points. Last week the Springboks were still dull, they kicked rather than passed, and used grunt rather than guile, but they played to their strengths and won. The Lions strengths are in its attack, namely the centres Roberts and O’Driscoll, and if they are given a quicker service, from whatever scrumhalf makes it, then they have shown what they can do. Last week Mike Phillips was too slow in his delivery, and while Harry Ellis put half a hand up to be selected, Phillips extra power and bulk around the fringes of the rucks may still be what’s required. The Lions management cannot afford to tinker too much or be overly reactive with selection, otherwise it is them that becomes the more inexperienced unit despite a long enough tour, meaning that not try out too many new combinations in such a crucial game would be foolish, they should keep the spine of the team but change a few positions to achieve an more open game plan.

How the Irish fared?

Keith Earls: With a veritable riches of selection for the Irish fullback spot in the years to come, with Kearney, Fitzgerald, Earls, and now Seapoint’s Felix Jones (Ireland A) the country is blessed. Earls was in my opinion, the “Man of the match” with a wonderfully taken try and some lovely touches with boot and hand. A little wobbly at times under a high ball in awful conditions, but Earls has learnt well on this tour, and has matured. Definitely a justified selection, and now one of the game’s best young talents. 8

Luke Fitzgerald: For Ireland and Leinster Fitzgerald enjoyed a feast of ball this year, but not so with the Lions. Always busy, and like a good winger looks for work, but the ball just has not come his way when he needed it most. Made one slashing break and defended well, may yet still make it on what he has in his locker: 7

Gordan D’Arcy Like Luke Fitzgerald play just has not run D’Arcys way, and with Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll such a form pairing, D’Arcy was always just going to be a bit player. Made some nice half breaks and teamed with Riki Fluety well. D’Arcy will be delighted to be back playing some fulltime rugby and will be back to his best for Ireland next year. 7

Ronan O’Gara. Looked a much better option than James Hook, and played the conditions as if he was back in Thomond Park. Missed a sitter of a kick early doors, but kicked the lines well, and lead the team in a dominant first half. The team lacked direction when he left after 40 minutes, and thereafter they coughed up a 10 point lead. Will force the selector’s hand. 8

Donncha O’Callaghan; One of the most improved players on tour. O’Callaghan has kept his discipline in check, hardly giving away any of his trademark penalties, and was given the distinction of captaining the Lions on one occasion. Has matured into an experienced world class second row, but may, just may, lose out to Simon Shaw’s extra couple of inches in the lineout and a stone in weight, but at the very least will be on the bench. Fingers are still crossed in Cork for an elevation to the starting XV.

John Hayes: Was driving his tractor peacefully in Bruff last week for a well earned rest, then another bloody tour! Hayes never puts a foot wrong, and deserved to be on this tour at the start rather than the end. Irish rugby may be pleased he was not, as Irelands most loyal servant needs some well needed R@R. Srummaged well in tandem with Shaun Payne. 7

My team to play South Africa:

Lee Byrne
Tommy Bowe
Brian O’Driscoll
Jamie Roberts
Luke Fitzgerald
Ronan O’Gara
Mike Phillips
Jamie Heaslip
Tom Croft
Martyn Williams
Paul O’Connell
Simon Shaw
Adam Jones
Matthew Rees
Gethin Jenkins

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Brent Popes Lions Player Watch – After First Test – Lions 21 South Africa 26

By admin · June 22, 2009 · Filed in Brent Pope's Player Watch Blog · 5 Comments »


Lions Coach Ian McGeechan is in a real selection dilemma now? Does he stick with his starting team selection of this week (apart from the obvious removal of prop Phil Vickery) or on the basis of their second half revival, does he jump ship and select a new starting team in an effort to square up the series? You can guarantee that apart from a possible reshuffle in the centres, that the South Africans will not change their starting team much.
There were two aspects of this match that ultimately affected the end result, and both had nothing to do with the players but rather their respective head coaches.  Firstly Ian McGeechan’s failure to pull floundering prop Phil Vickery from the field much sooner than he did, and then the arrogance and near tactical suicide of the Springbok Coach Peter de Villiers, who emptied his bench in an effort to give all his players a run out, and it very nearly cost him the match. Had the game run on for another 10 minutes the Lions would have won and De Villiers left with egg all over his face? In the end what looked like a one sided humiliation by the hosts just after halftime, turned out to be a fantastic second half revival by a team that refused to lie down?

Paul O’Connell can be proud of the way he nearly pulled off one of the great comebacks in Lions and test match history, and had a couple of passes stuck, or kicks at goal gone over, then the Lions would have emulated Lazarus. Of course this predisposes that the South Africans did not take their foot off the pedal figuring the game to be done and dusted? I said last week that the Lions would dominate in the scrums, but in the first half they received a battering up front that could only be described as embarrassing. Phil Vickery, who had come into the game as the form tighthead on tour, was destroyed by the “Beast” Mtawarira, a former flanker who is probably not even the best loose head prop in the country, but rather selected on the coloured player quota. Vickery scrummed far too high, and while the Beast may have been penalised by another referee for old-fashioned, but illegal boring in on the  Lions hooker, the English Captain and the Lions front row in general was more often popped up in the air, or face down on the ground facing another kickable penalty. It also meant that Irelands No 8 Jamie Heaslip was almost anonymous in the first half, being unfairly asked to pick up ball or make ground from a retreating scrum.

The Lions lineout was not faring much better at this stage, with South Africa’s artful poacher Victor Matfield stealing some of Lions hooker Lee Mears loose throws to the tail of the lineout. With the hosts enjoying supremacy in the maul (the Lions being driven 20 metres in one memorable flex of South African muscle) scrum, lineout and kicks at goal, the points just kept ticking over courtesy of  Pienaars reliable boot. For all intense purposes the Lions were not only losing the match but being humiliated. Paul O’Connell’s career as Lions Captain was about to be heavily scrutinised by the English media and the whole history of future Lions tours lay in the balance. But to be honest the Lions had not been that bad in the first spell despite the flattering score line, they had gifted the Springboks an easy first try to get them up and running, and should have scored a couple of tries themselves.

The South Africans didn’t actually create anything, the Lions problems unfortunately stemmed from one man Phil Vickery. Without a scrum and a badly misfiring lineout, the Lions basics were shot to hell, with only Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll offering some chinks of light. Every kickable penalty for the Boks seemed to stem from another scrum infringement, and you had the sense that Lions forward Coach Warren Gatland should have seen it a lot earlier. Gatland knew what Adam Jones could contribute, so why didn’t he tell Ian McGeechan to substitute Vickery midway through the first half? And why did Vickery appear after halftime, only to dive over a ruck and give the Springboks another 3 points? Four minutes into the second half  and the wholly haired Adam Jones finally appeared, and the agony was over, things began to change  almost immediately, although at about the very same time the Springbok Coach Peter de Villiers started making the changes that would ultimately let the Lions back into the game.

Suddenly the Lions scrum and lineout was superior, and the forwards lead by Paul O’Connell and Tom Croft began to punch holes in a tiring Springbok defence. O’Driscoll’s angled run that had sent Croft in for his first try worked again for Crofts second, and when the South Africans started to panic, Welsh scrumhalf Mike Philips was in again, to leave just a try between the teams going into the last few minutes. What had seemed impossibility just after halftime, was now not only possible, but probable, the only problem was had the Lions left their assault about 5 minutes too late? Had the Lions scored earlier when they were repeatedly assaulting the Springbok line then they may have had time to win, especially as the South Africans were making mistakes all over the park.

In the end a bad scrum, a weak lineout and some missed kicks at goal cost the Lions the first test. They will learn and have confidence going into the second, but so will the South Africans, and the world champions will now be all the better for losing a tight game, and having a much needed game together. The Springboks despite the win will look at where they went wrong as well, namely they will probably reselect their midfield, and will not be as eager to empty the bench this time out. The influential Swalk Burger may also be back, which is not welcomed news for the tourists.

From the Lions perspective Ian McGeechan is in a tricky position now, does he stick with the bones of the side that made such a remarkable comeback? Or does he shake things up a bit, meaning a few changes? The problem is had the Lions lost badly, which looked odds on after 60 minutes, then the decision would be easy, just make the changes, but McGeechan is now faced with a dilemma, the only certainty is that Phil Vickery will be no where near the Lions side or even the replacements bench next week, with Irelands John Hayes or Andrew Sheridan now poised to come onto the bench. It is a harsh end of the tour for the English Captain, but without a scrum a team cannot hope to win, and Vickery cannot hope to improve that much in a week, it now looks as if the midweek and Saturday games to date were a false dawn, and will require a major rethink.

The Lions must win next week, but at least their team spirit and confidence is still intact and not in tatters, they also know the South Africans will be waiting in the long grass better prepared and at high altitude. The odds of a series win does not favour the team that loses the first rubber, but as in Australia a few years ago, when the Lions won the series after losing the first match all is not over yet, it just got considerably harder that’s all.

How the players fared:
Lee Byrne: Unfortunately for the Welsh star, Byrne was forced to play in a defensive role rather than showing his attacking prowess. Was replaced in the second half by the big kicking Rob Kearny, who had a good game and possibly showed enough to usurp the Welsh fullback for the second test. 6/10

Rob Kearney: Came on and made a huge difference. Took  all the high balls majestically in the air, and kicked to touch well. Kearney was lucky that the Lions started to attack and get some ball in the second spell rather than just kick and chase and it will be a close selection call for next week. 7/10

Ugo Moyne: Made the mistake that gifted the hosts a soft try in the first few minutes, and also dropped some early high balls. Nearly scored a good try, but was turned over at the vital time, another player who might struggle to get selected for the second test if Ian McGeechan decides to vary things, still a chance that Luke Fitzgerald might get a chance if selected and plays well midweek. 6/10

Tommy Bowe. Bowe made one incision into the backline that should have resulted in a try if the Irishman had of just held onto the ball. Did not see enough of the ball to show his tour form, but will probably hold his position based on reputation. 7/10

Brian O’Driscoll. Along with Jamie Roberts, O’Driscoll made mince meat of the South African midfield backs, and looked dangerous with every touch of the ball. Created Tom Crofts first try with a sensational step and feed. Gave the Lions every chance in the dying minutes and continues to defy the critics with a season of dreams. 8/10

Jamie Roberts. Forget Pienaar, Roberts was the star of the show, and broke through the Springbok backline at will. Amazing to think now that Roberts was overlooked for the overrated Gavin Henson against Ireland in the Grand Slam decider last year. Roberts is now emerging as the “player of the tour” and the South Africans will have to restructure their whole defensive plan just to shut him down next week. 9/10

Stephan Jones: Just adequate, and could well be replaced by Ronan O’Gara next week, especially after Jones missed two kicks at goal when the Lions badly needed points on the board. 6/10 

Mike Phillips: Scored a crucial try, but took far too many steps before passing, and was slow in clearing ball at the base of the scrum and rucks. Invited the South Africans up flat on defence, and is not the answer. The Lions will rue the injury to Tomas O’Leary, who would offer a much faster delivery. Harry Ellis may put pressure on Phillips now, especially if O’Gara is preferred to Jones, thus breaking up the Phillips, Jones Welsh combination. 6/10

Jamie Heaslip. Had to try and operate behind a dismantled scrum and hence could not make much of an impression. Much better in the second half when things went more the Lions way, but will want to perform better next week if selected. 6/10

David Wallace: Was the Lions best forward in the first half despite very little good front foot ball. Made two or three trademark Wallace breaks, one of which could have resulted in a try. Unfortunately for Wallace when Martyn Williams came on the Lions were dominant and Williams looked good. Another Irish player who may not make it next week, all depends on how the coaches view things.  6/10

Tom Croft: Not a physical presence like say Stephen Ferris, but ran good support lines for two tries, took some ball at the tail of the lineout and made some great tackles. Rangy and fast, Croft was one of the better Lions performers. 7/10

Alun Wynn Jones: The lineout did not function as well as the Lions would have anticipated, especially with four jumpers at their disposal. Lee Mears throws too often went over O’Connell and Jones head. The Welshman was good in defence, with some bone crunching tackles but may be overlooked next week. 6/10

Paul O’Connell. As usual the Irish lock worked his socks off carrying ball around the fringes of rucks and mauls, but at times it was probably too predictable, especially in the first half, and the South Africans had him well read. Made a lot more ground in the second half, and lead the team well. 7/10

Phil Vickery; The English tight-head was touted by Lions scrum-coach Graham Roundtree as the “man to do the job” on what was deemed to be a weak enough South African front row, but he failed badly. Vickery is not a villain, he just had the worst day of his career in an area that he must take full responsibility in. Will not make the second test, and his international career may go into free fall. 4/10

Lee Mears. Mears throwing has been accurate up until now but on this tour but on Saturday his darts went astray against the tall timbers of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield. Mears did not get enough loose ball to make any impact where he is best with ball in hand, and was eventually replaced.

Gethin Jenkins: Jenkins while part of an overall dismantled front row, seemed to get a new lease of life when Welsh team-mate Adam Jones came on. Kept his side of the scrum reasonably steady throughout, and got around the park like an extra loose forward, including one memorable tackle of Bryan Habbana from behind, will be  retained…7/10 

Adam Jones: Not only held the scrum up, but actually took it forward on the tight-head side. Admittedly the South Africans had made some radical changes and were tiring badly, but all tour Jones has been slightly underrated and must start the second test.

Matthew Rees; Like Martyn Williams, Donnacha O’Callaghan ,Jones and Kearny all had the luxury of coming on when the Lions were on top but Rees carried ball well, and is a bigger physical presence than Mears. Helped fill the scrum and also the lineout came right, a coincidence or just good timing?

Donnacha O’Callaghan: Like the above mentioned it was a good day to be a sub. O’Callaghan may have done enough to make the second test, but will have to see how the selectors feel about Nathan Hines after the Scots poor run out last week against the Southern Kings.

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George Hooks Lions Video Blog After First Test Lions 21 South Africa 26

By admin · June 21, 2009 · Filed in George Hook's Video Blog · 7 Comments »




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Brent Popes Lions Player Watch – Test Team Analysis

By admin · June 19, 2009 · Filed in Brent Pope's Player Watch Blog · Comments Off


The story of the Lions tour to date and leading into the all important first Test against the reigning World Champions South Africa, this Saturday reads remarkably well, namely played 6 won 6. But the visitors 100% winning record tends to gloss over the fact that on a couple of occasions the Lions got out of jail, and had the opposition been slightly more clinical, especially in the last quarter of the match, then the results may have looked slightly worse. As expected and despite Coach Ian McGeechan keeping some of Tuesday’s fringe players against the Southern Kings motivated by saying that “his first test team was certainly not set in stone” in many ways it already was. And in reality the test team, apart from possibly the backrow, replacements bench and one wing spot had been pencilled in as early as last week.

In many regards there can not be too many gripes on the overall selection and it is more or less based on form rather than the usual tactic of throwing up one or two surprises. Ronan O’Gara must have been close to taking the No 10 spot after another superb goal-kicking display last Tuesday, but in the end he simply lost out to the combination vote of Welshmen Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones. O’Gara was actually lucky even to make the bench in the end, simply because if James Hook had of been fit then Hooks versatile would have given him O’Gara’s spot. Luke Fitzgerald may have also gone close, but he did not see enough of the play despite hunting for work, while the inclusion of David Wallace at openside flanker instead of Martyn Williams is an indication that the Lions will try and dominate possession early on, and attempt to get the ball into Wallace’s hands rather than leave it on the ground where the Springboks have shown a better ability to snaffle 50/50 ball. You can still expect Martyn Williams to play his part off the bench, especially in the second-half when play may loosen up.  Perhaps the biggest mover was lock Donncah O’Callaghan who leapt fogged Simon Shaw and Nathan Hines to make the bench, Hines left his chances on the field against the King last week with a poor display, while Shaw’s age possibly counted against him.

The success of the Lions tour will hinge on a series win, and not the midweek games, but it is imperative that the Lions go one up this weekend and heap the pressure back on the home side. Winning game 1 carries a huge advantage both in confidence and also in knowing that you can still afford to lose the second game and still win the series, although that kind of thinking is of course dangerous in the extreme. The Lions may also look to the fact that with the Springboks having no discernible game time together of late they will be understandably ring rusty, and as inspiration the Lions will look to Frances historic win over New Zealand last weekend. Like South Africa the All Blacks looked disjointed, especially in the first half and while they rallied well the French started far better, leading 17-3 at one stage, the Lions must adopt the same strategy. Looking to the test selections I have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, and look at what the South Africans may have learned about Ian McGeechan side in the last few weeks?

Lion’s strengths:

Front row: For years the Springboks prided themselves on having the best and biggest scrummagers in the world. In the past the “Boks” literally had a conveyor belt of big, dynamic front-rowers, but that has changed over the past few years, and they are now forced to play their influential Captain and usual hooker John Smit on the tight head side of the scrum just to facilitate the Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis. In my opinion they are further weakened by the selection of the “Beast” Mtawarira, who is undoubtedly a good ball carrier but is an average scrummager. The Springboks now also lack the extra weight of Swalk Burger on the blindside, who is of course out with injury

Conversely while most of the home unions struggle to find good young props, this years Lions squad is strong in this particular area, and to date on this tour this has been the one area of complete Lions dominance in every game. If the Lions can gain the upper hand here again as they did in 1997 with the likes of Paul Wallace and Tom Smith, then this will severely negate the Springbok back-row and maul.

Centres: Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts are a perfect combination of both power and guile. Roberts will be used to crash the centres, and angle play back into to the Lions loose-forwards especially early on, so that the likes of David Wallace can get his hands on the ball, while O’Driscoll will use his deft grubber kicks to keep the aggressive South African backs deeper on defence. For some reason the South Africans have always failed to produce many world class centres in their history, with their selectors always seeming to favour the direct and hard running defensive type of players rather than faster, slick creative men.

South Africans Strengths.

Backrow: The perfect balance for any back-row is speed, atheltisim, power and height and in many ways South Africa has that perfect balance.  No 8 Pierre Spies is a tall, rangy type of player, who is very quick and powerful with the ball in hand and off the back of the scrum and a useful tail of the lineout jumper, and while Swalk Burgers muscle will be sorely missed, he is replaced by a similar type of nuggety, robust player in Heinrich Brussow, a player who has already caused the Lions serious problems at the breakdown on this tour. While Juan Smith is one of the most underrated players in the world and very good on the ground. The fact that Brussow has been selected on the open side of the scrum, upsets the balance a bit, with the real possibility of the Springboks playing a left and right system (i.e. there is no definite openside or blindside as such) and if this is the case there was a definite case for playing both Martyn Williams and David Wallace in the same way. Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip will have the edge over the Boks at lineout time; with Brussow a much shorter man than Burger and in fact Croft.

Second row: In Victor Matfield and Backies Botha the South African second row is again the ideal balance of the athletic Matfield and the bulk and power of Botha. Paul O’Connell certainly matches Botha’s physical side; Alun Wynn Jones must now match Matfields around the field and lineout ability. Croft and Heaslip add an extra jumper at the tail of the lineout, but expect O’Connell and Jones to come up against the best second row pairing in the world.


Crucial area of play: The breakdown: Enough has been said about the problems the Lions are having at the breakdown and the Lions must reverse this trend in the Test. The secret is to get more Lions players to the breakdown and blow the Boks off the ball, the game plan may also necessitate keeping the ball off the ground early on so that the likes of David Wallace are running with the ball rather than scrambling around on the ground.

What the Springboks may have seen:

Lee Byrne: A player who must be moved around the park rather than kicked directly too. A great counter attacker who also enters the Lions backline at superb angles. Excellent at his basic duties. A potential danger man if he is floated miss passes by the likes of O’Driscoll.

Tommy Bowe: While Bowe is not the quickest winger in the world he enters the backline to great effect, and has perfected the off load out of the tackle as well. The Springbok backs will look to turn him with deep, long kicks, rather than let him move onto the ball.

 Ugo Monye: Could be a dark horse or a disaster? Monye has dodgy enough hands, and is a weak kicker especially off his left foot, but he is deceptively quick and cannot be given space.

Jamie Roberts: The obvious crash, bash man and the Lions will look to get Roberts over the gain line from first phase ball so as to get the loose forwards moving onto the ball rather than retreating. His role is crucial in the Lions game plan, and must be gang tackled behind the gain line early on.

 Brian O’Driscoll. O’Driscoll is the creator, and will look to use his dipping body and deft grubber kicks to keep the Springbok backs deeper rather than flat. Will be marked hard, but that allows space elsewhere. The Springboks backs will be paranoid about coming up to early and to flat on O’Driscoll as he has an uncanny knack of breaking the first tackle.

Stephen Jones: Defends his 9-10 channel well and has the ability to get his hands through the tackle if allowed. Not electrically quick, and can lose his composure in pressure situations.

Mike Philips: Not the quickest pass delivery on tour, but immensely strong and effectively works as a 4th loose forward. Keeps the opposition back row locked down at scrum time, and therefore does not allow them to move off into the backs too quickly. Takes on a little too much himself at times, especially around the fringes of rucks and mauls, and the Springboks might just tempt him into the space, isolate him, then seal off his support from the back.

Jamie Heaslip. Will struggle to match possibly the worlds best No 8 Pierre Spies for pace, both around the park and off the back of the scrum, but Heaslip is an extremely intelligent footballer, and already one of the stars on tour. Will be asked to do a lot more of the donkey work this week given the scrums won’t be as one sided as they have been so far.

Tom Croft: Stephen Ferris would have probably grabbed this spot but Croft will worry the Springboks because they do not know too much about him. Fast and rangy, he is not as rugged as some of the Springboks, but his extra height will offer problems for the Boks especially at the tail of the lineout. The Boks will look to tie him in to defending mauls rather than using his pace in loose play.

David Wallace. May be a slight risk here, not in Wallace’s ability with ball in hand, but in the problem area of the turnover and breakdown, Wallace’s selection indicates that the Lions want a dynamic ball carrier, Williams will appear off the bench if play loosens up.

Paul O’Connell. The obvious man to take on the Boks at their own game. Needs to share the ball carrying duties a bit more as it is becoming too predictable, and he will not get any change out of the Springbok loose forwards.

Alun Wyn Jones: Athletic, but is also a slight risk if he cannot find a bit more grunt to counter the Springbok tight five, a good lineout man which is paramount to at least winning your own ball, but is going to have to work harder at the coal face alongside his captain.

Gethin Jenkins; Outstanding and dynamic tour, but wrongly pinged by referee Jonathan Kaplan. The South Africans will not have as much joy on Saturday with the ref and expect Jenkins and co to dominate here.

Lee Mears: The smallest man in both packs, but also dynamic. The South Africans will target his lack of size in getting the maul started, and like Tom Croft the South Africans will want him tied in at the coalface rather than ranging wide where he will create problems. They will also target him for turnovers.

Phil Vickery:   Hugely experienced and also a good ball carrier, will put severe pressure on an average looking South African scrum.





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