Lions to show their brand

Rob Howley insists the Lions will attempt to continue with their expansive approach in the second tour match on Wednesday.

In the first 40 minutes of their opening fixture against the Royal XV, the visitors bemusingly opted to counter from all over the park. The back three of Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams were pinned back in their own territory, while Ronan O’Gara’s tactical kicking game was non-existent.

Meanwhile under 24 hours before this encounter, the Springboks also forgot about territorial appreciation as they struggled to an unconvincing win over a Namibian XV. 

Lions backs coach Howley said this was the intended game plan and it wasn’t a case of underestimating the kicking games of Naas Olivier, Sarel Pretorius and Russell Jeacocks. He also said that approach would continue for the foreseeable future.

‘We wanted to have a crack with the back three,’ said the former Lions scrumhalf. ‘However, sometimes we didn’t earn the right to go wide and we need to work on our continuity and support in future.

‘We don’t want to get drawn into the ping-pong in the air that has come in with the change in laws. This tour is also about showing the Lions’ traditional brand of rugby and we’ll be looking for that X-factor from the guys on Wednesday.’

The Lions were far from convincing in the 37-25 victory and excuses such as the heat, altitude as well as lack of game-time have been rife.

‘We struggled with the altitude. It was only our fifth day acclimatising, while the next game will be our eighth day, which is when you get the most benefit. We lacked composure but the thin air effected our front five. 

‘The conditions were difficult, it was the hottest day of the tour so far. Many of the guys haven’t played in five weeks, but we’ll be much better after Saturday’s outing.’

The match at Ellis Park will be played at night and Howley promised a better performance. He acknowledged the Lions will be stronger than the Royal XV, but so would the tourists.

‘We conceded 14 turnovers in the first half and that was a negative that meant we couldn’t stretch the opposition as much as possible. We have to improve on our ball retention as the Lions are strong. It’s all about winning the collisions to get that quick ball,’ said Howley.

‘Our defence of the maul was disappointing, you don’t want to know what Shaun Edwards had to say. It’s something we clearly need to work on.’

The hosts are a side in transition with a new coach following Loffie Eloff’s axing while reports of a player revolt have emanated. Howley believes this won’t hamper their preparation.

‘I’d be surprised if they were on downer knowing they’re facing us,’ said Howley. ‘They have hugely talented players. Willem Alberts is a great No 8 who reminds me a lot of Scott Quinnell. If Jano Vermaak plays, he is also quick and intelligent.

‘The Lions will be a huge step-up from Saturday. After that showing, all the guys will now know they are in South Africa.’

By Grant Ball, in Johannesburg