The British & Irish Lions are limping to the finish line with news that Jamie Roberts is doubtful for the third Test.
Two senior players, centre Brian O’Driscoll and prop Adam Jones, have been sent home with a concussion and dislocated shoulder respectively, while prop Gethin Jenkins will also miss the Test as a result of a fractured cheekbone.
A number of others are struggling to regain full fitness for the final Test at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Roberts ran at training on Wednesday, but didn’t take any contact. Phil Vickery, who was likely to come into the run-on side at tighthead prop, is suffering from a throat infection.
Vickery is expected to recover before Saturday, but there is doubt whether Roberts will win his race against the clock.
There was, however, better news regarding flyhalf Ronan O’Gara, who is likely to play off the wood at Ellis Park, and Tommy Bowe, who also looks set to recover from a knock.
Lions captain Paul O’Connell said the loss Of O’Driscoll, Jones and Jenkins was massive.
‘Brian brings a quiet confidence to the team and he’s incredibly valuable as a player,’ O’Connell told keo.co.za. ‘When your most potent attacking weapon is also your best and most honest defender, it has a galvanising effect on the whole team. He’ll be sorely missed.
‘Gethin is an intelligent guy and is able to point out where we’ve gone right and wrong,’ he continued. ‘It’s the same with Adam, who is a strong scrummager and good at the lineouts and around the pitch.’
Forwards coach Graham Rowntree conceded that should Vickery start, he would have to overcome memories of a diabolical performance in the first Test.
‘Let’s not beat around the bush here. It’ll be a huge psychological challenge for Phil after what happened in the first Test,’ Rowntree said. ‘He’ll have to pick up technically and emotionally. But as coaches that’s our job.’
O’Connell added that it was difficult to motivate the players after the Loftus defeat, which effectively renders the third Test a dead rubber, but explained that a couple of days off has rejuvenated them physically and mentally.
‘We would have loved to have gone into the third Test at one-all. We didn’t come here to lose and that obviously had a big effect on the boys,’ he said.
‘We’ve enjoyed the tour, but the real enjoyment comes from winning and having that experience of what it’s like to be in a winning changeroom. We haven’t had that and that’s made this last week tough.
‘But that said, we are professional and I’m sure we can replicate the intensity we’ve shown over the first two Tests.’
O’Connell referred to the Springboks as an ‘excellent team’ who would be difficult to beat even if they make the wholesale changes they are widely expected to.
‘We would have loved another crack at that same backline but they have outstanding strength in depth and the players who come in will bring a new intensity and new hunger to the Test,’ he said.
By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg