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Second Test, Last Chance

26th June 2009 By Munster Rugby

Second Test, Last Chance

If the Lions don’t manage to square the Test series this afternoon in Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, then it’s going to be a helluva long week for the players ahead of the final game in Johannesburg.

If the Lions don’t manage to square the Test series this afternoon in Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, then it’s going to be a helluva long week for the players ahead of the final game in Johannesburg.

And in fairness all the noise emanating from the Lions camp is positive, "You’re always confident when you’re playing in a Lions team and some of the rugby we played last weekend showed we have the confidence to play the game we want to." says Brian O’Driscoll while Warren Gatland insists "We’ve trained well this week and the players are looking sharp. Physically we are in good shape and we aren’t concerned about playing at altitude. We had 80% territory and scored 14 points in the last 20 minutes in Durban when they were out on their knees."

And no argument at all about that because in the dying stages of the game in Durban, the Boks were clinging on for dear life.

But the question remains. Was that final quarter Boks collapse due solely to the Lions upping the ante or because the Boks were ring-rusty and because coach Peter de Villiers made too many replacements too soon. If Fourie du Preez was still on the park would Mike Phillips have scored seven minutes after he was replaced ? If Jean de Villiers – benched in the 57th minute – was still there would Tom Croft have busted the midfield for his 68th minute score ?

Yes we did see enough from the outstanding O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts to suggest that a reprise this afternoon will reap huge reward. But how much improvement can there be from them ? Or how much does there need to be given that we saw nothing of the Boks backs in offense – how many times did Bryan Habana handle the ball ? – while their defence can only get better. If it gets worse then the Lions will win comfortably.

Gatland probably identified the key to this afternoon’s outcome when he noted, "the 5-2 split between forwards and backs on their bench."

The Boks know they have to subdue the Lions up front or suffer the wrath of their backs. "South African teams have a bullying mentality and they like to come in and push you around and off the ball." Gatland says, " But I would be very surprised if any of the Lions took a backward step."

Well, given the occasion, so would everybody wearing red shirts in the stands and the thousands watching the Sky television broadcast.

And to that end Adam Jones is in to subdue ‘The Beast’. Is there any evidence from what we have seen of the The Hairy One in Six Nations or Heineken Cup to suggest he will ? Simon Shaw is in to add the oomph but in the event that the 35 year old doesn’t stick the pace, who will replace him ? Alun-Wyn Jones, who was dropped so that Shaw could supply the oomph.

The back changes – Robert Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald – will give the Lions more potency. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but Kearney or Fitzgerald should have been in the side for Durban.

And the question remains how much improvement is there in either side ?

South Africa: Frans Steyn; JP Pietersen, Adi Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana; Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez; Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, John Smit; Bakkies Botha,Victor Matfield; Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Pierre Spies. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Deon Carstens, Andries Bekker, Danie Rossouw, Heinrich Brussow, Jaque Fourie, Morne Steyn.

Lions: Robert Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Luke Fitzgerald; Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, 4 Simon Shaw, Paul O’Connell capt, Tom Croft, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Ross Ford Andrew Sheridan, A-W Jones, Martyn Williams, Harry Ellis, Ronan O’Gara, S Williams.

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