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The Lions Roar Back! [Jun. 4th, 2009|05:35 pm]

Never take a backward step, never say die, never give in, don't walk off the pitch with anything left in the tank and be prepared to hit anything that moves, including the ref, when you here a "99" call.

Those are the rules of Lions tours in the past, along with a few more that revolve around drinking which I obviously can't disclose, and it's a code that has made the fans fall in love with this representative side over the last few decades with a fervour and passion that is not really seen anywhere else.....well except for maybe on the Ryder Cup.....but they don't get to hit each other.......much.

Therefore it wasn't a great start on Saturday as a hastily thrown together side from the third tier of South African rugby managed to do the unthinkable, not only score against the GB side, but also come within about 10 minutes of winning against the star studded tourists.

Against the Royal 15 the Lions had barely sharpened their claws, let alone actually worked up any sort of appetite for destruction, and the lacklustre performance they put in, in which the 37-25 score line flattered the GB side massively, would have hugely worried the fans and management.

Not only did they look about as aggressive as 3 week old kittens after a particular hard day of chasing wool and scratching stuff, they simply did not click, and immediately I started thinking back to the last ill fated Lions tour where too many players, lack of time together, and numerous other problems meant that it ended up feeling like a touring side of individual superstars who had never played together, not a team, and we all know what happened there!

Lots of standard excuses were rolled out, they were jet lagged, they hadn't had time to click yet, some players are allergic to South Africans etc, but the fact is they were lacking the desire and the commitment to play, and missed a huge opportunity to lay down a marker for the forthcoming weeks. What they needed was to show the Saffers that they mean business from the word go, and also show that even if the rest of the bits will take time to click, that the DESIRE is there from the start....and more importantly the unbridled aggression.

That's one of the main reasons why I love rugby, yes it is a huge game of skill, well maybe not in the forwards where its al about bashing the living hell out of each other until you regress back to a caveman mentality and can only utter the words "Me Hungry" and "Me Smashey", but definitely in the backs where us pretty boys stand around doing our hair and comparing nails. Yet it doesn't matter if you're the most skilful player in the world, even more skilful than say Skilly McSkill from Skillsville, you'll find it pretty hard to run through someone who "Wants" it more than you, simply down to the fact that its quite hard to run with broken legs, you see aggression and violence is a wonderful playing field leveller.

Hell if your not that good at running with the ball in hand, just make sure you tackle like a train and run round with a bit of "Mad Dog" in you and any coach will pick you over an X factor metro-sexual wannabe who may have moves slicker than John Travolta covered in grease, but will bottle it at the first sign of contact.

Therefore when you have world class professional players, it seems crazy that they can turn up to a match and not be fired up, but it happens in rugby, for a number of reasons. If there was a switch that allowed you to turn it on or off at he drop of a hat, that would be ace, but there isn't and it all eventually comes down to preparation. In other words they got it wrong against the Royal 15, but the key in any sport, is to realise when you have got something wrong, put your hand up and learn from your mistakes....something which McGeechan and his charges are very much aware of.

If anyone was remotely worried that the Lion's seeming hangover would roll into game two of the tour against the Golden Lions, you needn't have, as right from the word go it was pretty obvious that this was a different set of guys, with a very different mentality who clearly had had a rocket put up their backsides by a rather upset McGeechan, Edwards and co.

When you play for the Lions it's an incredible honour, as it comes around once only every 4 years for our players, but imagine what it must be like for the guys playing against the boys in red in SA, they only get a shot at this every 12 years, so you can imagine for the local players and fans, this is a once in a lifetime chance to show the world what you have got!

This makes the Lions performance last night all the more impressive as these guys were a step up from the Royal 15 played on Saturday, being an actual Super 14 side albeit not a great one, but right from the whistle it was obvious there was only going to be one winner, well two if you include rugby.........ohh that's cheesy!

Sure you can point to the fact that the Golden Lions had finished bottom of the Super 14 table, or that they sacked their coach at the end of the season, or that they were missing a few key players, but the fact remains the GB boys still ran in ten tries, and looked world class in doing so.

It was obvious from the off that the preparations for this match had been a tad better, with the hits flying in from the word go, and the defence actually looking top notch throughout the game. Sure B'OD and Monye got sucked in for the Golden Lions try, but otherwise it was an almost perfect display. One thing that really cheered my heart was the way in which the Lions defended against the Saffers with a couple of minute to go right on their own try line.

The crowd were urging the home side on to score another consolation try with the game already wrapped up, the Lions were also down to 14 men as Monye had left the pitch with a knock, but they didn't budge or give an inch, exemplified (that's a big word for me) by the last ditch tackle from Jenkins that ensured the oppo didn't cross the line.........simply awesome!

That shows a pride in defending your line, and a professionalism that would have had defence coach Edwards smiling (well maybe not smiling as that's not something you imagine Edwards doing...it would be much too human), not that you would know it by the way he was bouncing up and down and shouting at his charges, even after they were 62 points in front! Now that's passion!

Anyway, I thought the whole team looked top notch, with Croft, Heaslip, Powell and Ferris (whose breakaway try showed just how quick he really is - outrunning the Golden Lions winger in process) in the back row showing that you really can ally mobility with power, and the much fancied 6, 7 and 8 combo of the Saffers will have taken note and it looks like Pierre Spies and co might have a bit of competition.

I actually think that pretty much all of the forwards played superbly, with people like Vickery, Hines, and Wynn Jones all having stormers around the park, as well as looking extremely solid and making a huge impact in the tight.

The backs were on fire too, and it will take a LOT to displace Phillips and Jones in the half back positions, with the Welsh combo clicking beautifully together. Phillips service may be a little laboured, but his powerful running combined with his natural attacking instincts really gave the forwards go forward ball to work off, and I thought he had a top game.

Jones is truly looking world class at the moment, he was always a very gifted kicker and tactician, but over the years he has really worked on his running game and distribution skills too, and his link up work with the centres was immense.

Roberts and O'Driscoll also looked like an established partnership in the centres, where there lines of running allied with their silky skills and brute strength created massive wholes in the oppo's defence. Plus Tommy Bowe not only scored two but pretty much set up 4 others, and even Monye looked sharp with his two try debut for the GB Lions.

In other words, it looks like that first game really did give the boys the "slap round the face with a wet kipper" that they needed, now the coaches face the tough task of keeping the momentum rolling into Saturdays match, and it will be interesting to see the team they go for ahead of next weeks big test match.

Either way, its good to see the Lions "Purring" and "hungry" and having "sharpened their claws".......sorry to be fair I am just trying to get as many Lion sounding animal related clichés in as possible....it seems to be the in thing amongst journos with the Lions..........let's see.......erm........they need to ensure this "Pride" remains within the "Pride" (two meanings, one word - get in!) and that they are not "toothless" before they come face to face with the actual Springboks next week.........okay that's enough now I suppose...............oh one more....they should keep their "paws" on the ground!

Anyway, all the signs are there that this Lions team could be on for something very special out in SA, and it will be key for them to keep this momentum going against the Cheetahs on Saturday afternoon, and as always I will keep you updated on the score of the Match on my Offside show, and check back on Sat morning for my preview of all the sporting action for the weekend, and a preview of what's coming up on Offside!

Plus check back tomorrow for my preview of the most rock and roll version of cricket there is, complete with Day-Glo pyjamas, scantily clad women (yeah right), music blaring from speakers and more party vibes than you could fit in an ice bucket, and its all taking place right here in the UK, I am of course referring to the Twenty Twenty World Cup!