SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Lions can roar to glory if they just speed it up! Tap penalties, quick lineouts and getting the X-factor stars on early should all mean the Springboks are beaten in a series decider made for champions
- South Africa start as favourites this weekend but the Lions can clinch the series
- Warren Gatland described this game as a cup final with pressure on both teams
- The Lions will fall short if they try to replicate South Africa’s conservative style
- Instead, they must be patient in possession before building pace and intensity
South Africa start as favourites on Saturday but make no mistake, the Lions can still win in Cape Town and take the series. It will need a Herculean effort but victory can be theirs.
There was a good deal of gloom after that defeat in the second Test but the one thing we know about sport in the pandemic is that there can be huge swings in momentum and performance from week to week.
Rugby has become very unpredictable. Who had Quins down to win the Premiership three weeks before the end? Who predicted a Wales Six Nations? Who thought Argentina would come out of hibernation last year to defeat the All Blacks?
The Lions are capable of taking victory and also the series against South Africa this weekend
It has been a year like no other and the rugby gods may throw up one more match in the longest season which defies all the odds.
So all to play for, a cup final as Warren Gatland has been correctly describing the game, an apt phrase to get the players in the right headspace.
If I were in the Lions camp this week I would have been cranking things up and emphasising what an opportunity this game offers.
Warren Gatland has correctly described the game as a cup final with pressure on both teams
I make it just once since 1910 that the Lions and Boks have gone into the final Test with the series on the line: 1955 when the Lions lost the fourth Test to draw the series 2-2. So this isn’t just a once-in-a-career game, this is once-in-a-lifetime game for us all to witness, a real treat and unknown territory.
The Lions need to walk towards that pressure, know this is a unique occasion and produce the game of their lives to beat South Africa. At a time when mental health in sport is on everyone’s lips, it’s important to realise that this is pressure as opposed to stress. There’s a big difference.
This is the kind of pressure that sees athletes produce personal bests, break world records and I hope all the Lions squad are dialled in to what exactly is at stake. Both sides will have been feeling the pressure all week and it will be interesting to see who can cope best.
As for the rugby, the Lions will fall short if they try to take South Africa on at their own conservative but forceful gameplan. The Boks are the masters of it. They never change, it’s just how well they execute that gameplan that differs.
The Lions will fall short if they try to take on South Africa at their conservative but forceful plan
Now they are back in the swing after their post-World Cup lack of rugby I assume they will be as good as last week, probably better. So the Lions need a clear point of difference.
They need to speed the entire game up and make it a test of endurance as well as strength but that is difficult with halves taking over an hour, something World Rugby needs to address.
TMOs are getting too involved and the process too convoluted. And I’m not just talking about Marius Jonker and this series, it’s a worrying worldwide trend.
The first two Tests have lacked any flow and this stop-start rugby massively favours the Springboks. In a Test series notable for the comments and accusations of the coaches, Gatland’s pleas this week for the game to be speeded up were the most relevant.
The first two Tests had been stop-start and the lack of flow heavily favoured the Springboks
It’s become ridiculous, and although diehard fans will find much to enjoy in these gladiatorial battles, the series has been a poor spectacle for the uncommitted fan. I hope it can at least go out with a bang.
So how do the Lions combat it? Difficult, but they can speed things up at the lineout and tapped penalties and giving fewer penalties away would also deny the Boks chances to take time out of the game.
When in possession the Lions should be more patient. This does not mean slowing the game down but go through the phases, keep passion and build some pace and intensity in attack.
Be ready to go at scrums ahead of the Boks and be vocal about the time they are taking to form. The referee Mathieu Raynal might start taking the hint. Get replacements on and off quickly. Trim 10 minutes off each half.
The Lions must be more patient in possession before building the pace and intensity in attack
It will take a high level of skill and fitness but that is always required to beat South Africa.
I was hoping to see either Finn Russell or Marcus Smith at 10 and that’s no reflection on Dan Biggar who is a tremendous Test player who we haven’t seen at his best. Perhaps this will be the day. The reason I wanted Russell or Smith, though, is that just as South Africa are so predictable, the Lions have been just as easy to read.
The selection of Russell would have been a curveball and Smith would have had them scratching their heads. High-risk options, but with either of those two at the helm you get the kind of game where the Lions could be trailing 14-0 after 10 minutes, leading 21-14 after 20 minutes and the scores level at 28-28 at half-time.
That’s the kind of game South Africa would hate, the sort of match that can go badly wrong for them.
The selection of Russell (seen right) would have been a curveball to deal with for South Africa
You get taken out of your comfort zone, just as we saw Quins do in the latter stages of the Premiership programme, all of which was down to the brilliance and invention of Smith.
At the least I hope the Lions get their X-factor players on, such as Russell and Sam Simmonds, with enough time to make a difference.
Is there anything else to focus on? I would keep an eye on the Boks scrum-half Cobus Reinach. He comes in for the injured Faf de Klerk. I rate Reinach – he can be electric on the break and in support and he has a habit of being in the right place at the right time to score important tries.
Cobus Reinach comes in for the injured Faf de Klerk and is electric on the break and in support
It’s a challenge to be parachuted into the final Test of a series like this off the back of very little recent rugby and the Lions will try to pressure him but his selection does not weaken the South African team. Like Faf, he’s a great player but they are different in the way they go about their work.
So, a once-in-a-lifetime game for all involved – no Monday morning evaluation meeting to evaluate performance and talk selection. This is it. A game made for champions, for warriors, for those who want to make history.
The score? The Lions to take it with an injury-time dropped goal from Finn Russell.
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