Opinion: Black needs more competitive combinations
If there’s anything that illustrates the chaos of the run-up to the first midweek match between the British and the Irish Lions 2021 Round were T-shirts.
Lewis Reese Zammit had the number ’10’ on his back against the sharks while Owen Farrell had no number at all, and the young Welsh winger clearly had a build more similar to the man originally selected for the half-flying, Dan Biggar, England captain.
Both players were among the four late changes in the main defensive line as Two Covid cases in Lions camp – One player and one coach – Witnessed the isolation of eight other players. Four more changes were needed off the bench, with Finn Russell the only other full-back available.
Given that this match was confirmed to be going ahead with less than two hours before kick-off, the crazy rush the lions had from the hotel, all the changes and the fact that some players were having their second game on high in a few days, the tourists could have been forgiven for They were a little off pace early on. Instead, it was the other way around.
it takes Josh Adams Less than three minutes to add another attempt to his Lions tally, he dropped to low to collect the Rees-Zammit takedown and run. Adams has now started at 14, 11 and 15 in the Lions’ three games so far – and has appeared skilled anywhere he gets picked in the back, bringing his tally to eight in three matches.
With the clock ticking after six minutes, Dohan van der Merwe He scored the lions’ second attempt – and he had another half an hour before. Bundee Aki’s effort before the break, along with Farrell’s three transfers, made it 26-0 for the Tourists.
Traffic was one-way, and it was similar in the second half as the Lions ran in five more attempts, with Adams and Van der Merwe completing a hat-trick 54-7.
In herein lies the problem.
After Saturday’s 56-14 victory over Sigma Lions, Warren Gatland Reflected on how the Lions “lose” the 2009 Test series against the Springboks due to a lack of competitive fixtures in the prep. It looks like it will be the same in 2021, although the Boks may be just as unprepared this time around.
The franchises are without their Springboks stars as South Africa has picked a bigger team than usual due to Covid, while some teams are also missing out on those representing the Sevens and the U20 national teams.
All this means that the Lions face much weaker opposition ahead of the Test series than they did in New Zealand four years ago. Before facing the world champions, Lions need to be tested, and stretched, to see who can handle the pressure and even thrive under it – and who can’t. This does not happen.
Can Gatland and his coaches know enough about the players in these tiered competitions to decide who is best suited for the Test team? They will have to.
In addition to the opponent, there are a number of matches. This is the Lions’ shortest run ever, with only eight matches in South Africa and a Japan match before departure, and the pandemic threatens to reduce that number even further.
Saturday Bulls’ game has already been postponed due to Covid cases at the franchise in Pretoria and while tour operators try to find alternative opponents for this weekend, will anyone be available and able to meet the testing requirements?
Yes, Covid is affecting the Tour, but we’ve seen on previous trips how Test players are kept out of warm-up matches and the Lions faced weak – or “modest” opposition as Ronan O’Jara described it. There has been a clear divide in the separation between the tourists and their first opponents in South Africa thus far, Sigma Lions and Sharks.
There should be more significant and competitive combinations for the Lions – these one-sided competitions are of little use to either side.
And with the Boks’ second test against Georgia canceled due to Covid cases in both camps, the world champions will likely go to the undercooked test series as well.
They’ve only played one Test now since they won the Rugby World Cup In 2019 and also limited in the training they can do due to the number of players who have tested isolation, positivity protocols, etc.
The Tour heads toward its first test on Saturday 24th July as both competing teams will likely be rusty and not well oiled. This is a shame for everyone involved.
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