Boks in for a rough ride
By Stephen Nell - Die Burger
Cape Town – The British and Irish Lions are planning to take on the Springboks at their own traditional strengths in the series of three Tests in June and July.
That was the reaction on Tuesday from a panel of experts approached by Sport24 following the announcement of the squad for the tour of 10 games in South Africa.
Alan Solomons, Eddie Jones, Jake White and Cobus Visagie all agreed that Ian McGeechan (head coach) made a good selection and believe the Lions will take South Africa on physically.
“The Lions are not going to be out to entertain. They have picked a very physical squad,” said Solomons, who is a former Bok assistant coach and has also been at the helm of Irish side Ulster.
He believes the choice of Paul O’Connell as captain, as well as three physical scrumhalves – Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis and Tomas O’Leary - underline that point.
“O’Connell was a very good choice as captain. He has done an excellent job at Munster and has a hard edge,” said Solomons.
“Mike Phillips reminds me of Robert du Preez (a former Blue Bulls and Springbok scrumhalf). All the scrumhalves are big and physical.
“Mike Blair and Dwayne Peel (who were omitted) are more classic scrumhalves that are perhaps better passers of the ball. This sends a clear signal on how the Lions intend playing.
“The two flyhalves (Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara) are good at game management. They kick well at goal and their tactical kicking is also good.”
Jones, a former Wallaby boss who coached Saracens until recently, also believes the Lions have picked a squad that can stand their ground physically.
“They have picked big and aggressive forwards. They will definitely be out to take South Africa on physically,” he said.
“There are not many surprises among the backs. I don’t think they’ll be out to beat South Africa with flair. I doubt we’ll see high scores in the games. It’s going to be hard and uncompromising. The Lions will have a very recognisable style of play.
“The big question is whether they have enough talent. If you weigh the sides against one another, South Africa will have more talent at their disposal.”
McGeechan surprised by not picking the captains of Scotland (Blair), Wales (Ryan Jones) and England (Steve Borthwick). Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll will play a supporting role under O’Connell.
White, who coached South Africa in their triumphant World Cup campaign, was impressed by the manner in which McGeechan approached the issue of leadership.
“It shows he has his own vision and that sends a very good signal to the players. I have to compliment him on that,” said White.
“He did not fall into the trap of sentimental choices. Some people would have wanted Borthwick there because he is England’s captain and Ryan Jones would have had a lot of support in Wales.
“O’Driscoll is also not the skipper, irrespective of the reverence in which he is held in Ireland. With the squad he picked, McGeechan is also keeping his cards close to his chest with regards the first 15 for the tests.”
Visagie, a former Bok tighthead prop who now plays for Saracens, also sees a physical onslaught coming South Africa’s way.
“The choice of O’Connell ahead of O’Driscoll tells you what the philosophy will be. They wanted a skipper that can impose himself physically,” said Visagie.
“Simon Shaw over Borthwick is a further indication. Shaw is a bruiser and Borthwick a lineout specialist. However, I think South Africa have the ability to dominate the Lions physically.”