Lions load their team with hard men

2009-04-22 00:00

THE British Lions tour of South Africa in June and July will be anything but beer and skittles.

Lions coach Ian McGeechan has ensured that the Springboks will have to overcome a fierce physical slog if they are to avenge their 1997 defeat.

McGeechan has loaded his team for the three-Test tour with hard men prepared to take on the Springboks at their traditional forward game.

Springbok captain John Smit said McGeechan’s choice of Paul O’Connell as the tour leader is an indication of the route the Lions intend to take — an attempt to reproduce the successful formula that helped the 1997 Lions beat the Springboks under another lock, Martin Johnson.

“Paul O’Connell is a team man who is well respected internationally, and it is obvious they are trying to replicate the vibe and momentum they had with the same coach in 1997,” said Smit.

Smit was not surprised the Lions squad was dominated by players from Ireland and Wales.

“We always expected them to pick strong and aggressive forwards, which indicates they see the scrum and lineout as key elements,” he said.

“Overall it is a very strong team and one that will provide a big challenge for us on our home ground.”

The 31-year-old Smit is set to play his 82nd Test and to captain South Africa for the 56th time when he leads the Springboks in the first match in Durban on June 20, but the indications are that he will be at prop rather than hooker.

Bok coach Peter de Villiers said he hopes to blood a few newcomers in the three-match series, but quickly added that the bulk of his squad would be chosen from the experienced squad of last year.

“There are a few injury concerns, but we expect all of the leading contenders will be fit when we assemble in June,” he said.

“The Lions are not going to be out to entertain. They have picked a very physical squad,” Alan Solomons, who coached Irish side Ulster, told News24.

He highlighted the selection of O’Connell as captain and three powerful scrumhalves in Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis and Tomas O’Leary.

“Mike Phillips reminds me of Robert du Preez (a former Blue Bulls and Springbok scrumhalf). All the scrumhalves are big and physical.”

Former Saracens and Wallaby coach Eddie Jones also believes the Lions have picked a squad that will match the Boks 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. It’s going to be hard and uncompromising.

The Lions will have a very recognisable style of play,” Jones added.

Cobus 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.

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