British & Irish Lions

Ex-Bok assistant coach: 'Stave off a sandpit ... use Newlands for Test'

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Newlands Rugby Stadium (Gallo)
Newlands Rugby Stadium (Gallo)

Currently dormant Newlands would be best equipped to host the - possibly decisive - final Test of the series between the Springboks and British and Irish Lions.

That is the view of Gary Gold, assistant coach in charge of the forwards when the Boks won the 2009 series 2-1.

He is concerned about the possible state of Cape Town Stadium after the effects another Test this Saturday will have on its questionable playing surface.

It was already under scrutiny after breaking up noticeably underfoot in the first Test last weekend, won 22-17 by the Lions.

“It’s a problem,” says Gold, now head coach of the United States but currently back on home terrain for a few weeks. “You always know it will be generally wet and heavy in the Mother City at this time of year, even if it’s not going to rain specifically in the match.

“I think there’s a solution, sitting in wait 10 minutes down the road: Newlands. An historic ground is sitting there, in incredibly good nick pitch-wise.

“You can’t have people there, so that’s not an issue and makes for much easier logistics in a swap-over -- so even if not the second Test, I’d certainly advocate moving the third to Newlands.

“There’s already been a double-header at Cape Town Stadium (when the Bulls played SA ‘A’ and the Stormers later tackled the tourists), plus the SA ‘A’ game against the Lions, then the first Test ... it’s going to have an impact, and that surface is increasingly not fit for purpose.”

Gold says it is clear the surface suits soccer better: the venue was erected for the 2010 World Cup, even though it has now also become new home to WP Rugby.

“You saw a number of outside backs slipping in the (first) Test match; the scrums were churning up the turf … nobody wants to see that as a determining factor in a Test series of this gravitas.

“What a way to potentially send off Newlands, once and for all: let’s have the final Lions Test there. I feel very strongly that the game should be transferred ... it doesn’t affect anybody.”

He says Newlands, which has had very sporadic use in recent months, is tailor-made for a match of such gravitas.

“It has a Desso (hybrid grass) surface, properly geared for rugby usage, whereas Cape Town Stadium has an ordinary grass deck.

“It would be terribly sad if there were winter downpours next week and, after the exertions of another Test there this weekend, the final Test is played in a sandpit.

“Don’t they sometimes say that common sense is not very common? Come on, let’s do it.”

The series was initially intended to have the closing two Tests played in Johannesburg, but a recent decision was taken to play it in entirety in Cape Town.

Gold has mixed views on whether sticking to “Plan A” - having the bulk of the Tests in highveld conditions – would have suited the home cause better.

“It is a tricky one … I don’t think the highveld would have worried these Lions, put it that way.

“Why I have some doubts, about what would usually be deemed a Bok advantage up there at altitude, is that the tourists seem to be matching us at the kicking game.

“The thing with the highveld is that our kicking game generally becomes more effective: the ball hangs in the air longer; your runners have more time to get to the ball ... and that space in the back field; the ball tends to go a little bit further.

“But the Lions have been handling our kicking game quite well so far. They’ve actually matched it.”

Gold concedes that purely based on tradition, the Boks may rue the absence of highveld Tests.

“Look, in theory, going into the Test series as originally planned, all the connoisseurs out of there would have been thinking that yes, the highveld is good for us - by and large, it always has been.

“The fact of the matter is that a lot of our players live up there and are naturally acclimatised.

“So touch and go, it might have been a better call for us ... but it’s not to be, and perhaps not really a major swing factor in current (circumstances) anyway.”

Teams:

South Africa

15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse

British and Irish Lions:

15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland), 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Chris Harris (Scotland), 12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), 10 Dan Biggar (Wales), 9 Conor Murray (Ireland) 8 Jack Conan (Ireland), 7 Tom Curry (England), 6 Courtney Lawes (England), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales), 4 Maro Itoje (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), 1 Mako Vunipola (England)

Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Wales), 17 Rory Sutherland (Scotland) 18 Kyle Sinckler (England), 19 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), 20 Taulupe Faletau (Wales), 21 Ali Price (Scotland), 22 Owen Farrell (England), 23 Elliot Daly (England)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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