Sunday, 14 June 2009

British Lions tour so far

Now we've reached the midway point of the 2009 British Lions tour, it's time for a review of their performances so far, and a look ahead to the test matches. Fair to say it's been a mixed bag in terms of performances, but an unbeaten record speaks for itself.

We saw a shaky start against the Royal XV, which should have been the weakest opposition, followed by good wins over the Golden Lions, Cheetahs, Sharks and Western Province. The Lions have had the edge over the star-unstudded provincial lineups they have faced, and we have seen a number of players stake their claim for the starting test team.

British Lions test team

Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye have been the best of the wings, while Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll look a formidable centre combination. And at half-back Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones have looked solid.

In the forwards things seem more up for grabs. Phil Vickery had a good game against Western Province, as did the back row of Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams and Andy Powell. But Ian McGeechan's primary concern will be to ensure he picks a balanced pack.

No Springboks

I think it's a great pity that Pieter de Villiers opted to withdraw the Springbok players from their provincial outfits, which has had the effect of devaluing the warmup games. Half-empty stadia have been testament to this.

No doubt De Villiers has wanted to have as much time as possible to get the Springboks ready for the tests, and has also been keen to avoid injuries to key players. However, there is a wide-spread belief that the Springboks will go into the first test undercooked, while the British Lions will have had six warm-up games to prepare against weaker opposition.

Perhaps the Springbok camp is hoping the Lions camp will show their hand tactically in the warmup games while the Springboks have the luxury of playing their cards closer to the chest. But it's unlikely there will be too many surprises in the Springboks' patterns anyhow - winning in rugby is not necessarily about your opponents not knowing what you're up to, but simply about them being unable to stop you regardless.

It has a lot to do with execution in the heat of battle, and at the moment the British Lions are the ones getting all the practice!

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