Brains trust the true threat

Ian McGeechan and his management team are a clear cut above their 2005 counterparts according to flyhalf Stephen Jones.

Jones toured New Zealand in 2005 when Clive Woodward’s Lions were thrashed 3-0. Woodward led England to World Cup glory in 2003, but the Lions’ tour to New Zealand was considered a failure on many levels and Woodward was slammed for his approach.

The 2009 Lions come into this series as underdogs but will be coached by a man who knows how to win in South Africa. McGeechan is a mentor held in reverence the world over. The management team responsible for Wales’ 2008 Six Nations success, namely Warren Gatland, Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards, are also in tow. It’s fair to say the Lions’ brain trust hold the key to a famous upset.

Jones, who will start against the Golden Lions at Ellis Park on Wednesday, told the difference in approach is patent.

‘I enjoyed the experience of becoming a Lion in 2005, but it’s all about winning and we want to play in a team that wins a series.

‘The preparation for this series has been good. Ian has different philosophies and we have to be smart about the way we train. We haven’t spent a lot of time on the training pitch but the sessions have been very intense.

‘We often switch coaches and in that way it keeps you stimulated. We’ll spend about five minutes with Shaun Edwards on defence and then about five minutes with Rob Howley on attack.’

What the Lions are missing is a specialist kicking coach, but Jones doesn’t see this as a problem. Between the Welsh flyhalf and Ronan O’Gara, the Lions boast 1698 Test points and 176 Test appearances.

‘I have a lot of experience working with Neil Jenkins [who kicked the Lions to victory in the 1997 series against South Africa] but we have no kicking coach,’ said Jones. ‘Ronan and I bounce a lot of ideas off each other. We want to play an upbeat game, but because of the altitude we will have to adjust in terms of our kicking. Our back-three are still getting used to the hang-time in the air.’

On the Golden Lions, Jones admits the Super 14 side will push them harder than the Royal XV did last Saturday.

‘We are limited by time but we have certain focus points. We will evolve in our moves and running lines as the tour progresses.

‘The Golden Lions are going to be very physical and from our perspective we have to be smart about the way we play. It’s not rocket science, we have to keep the ball in hand, take it through the phases and test the defence.

‘I have a good relationship with Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts but from an attacking perspective, we have to use Jamie and Brian O’Driscoll to good effect.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg