by Conor O'Shea
The Lions' wide margin victory over the Golden Lions was just what the doctor ordered.
It is a good sign that, just as they did not get carried away with their under performance in Game One against the Royal XV, the Lions management and squad didn’t carried away by what was an emphatic and hugely impressive victory.
It is the manner of the win that will really make the difference. This will give the squad a huge boost and it will lay down a marker that the Springboks will have to take notice of.
In terms of the specific details of the performance, you certainly cannot start singling out players because every body from number one to number 22 have all have posed selection problems by playing well, but it was the collective will that counted.
Spirit in evidence in defence and strong finish
Defending their line the way this team did with minutes to go in the game and 60 points on the board smacks of the spirit that they are now telling everyone they have. If you look at Stephen Ferris’s last try of the night and the hits put in first by Jamie Heaslip and then Gethin Jenkins to create that chance, it shows you where this Lions team are at.
For this entire match, they were on top of their opponents. The scrum was powerful with Phil Vickery at tight head in the first half and then Euan Murray came on in the second half and it went to another level again, so immediately you are seeing competition for places.
Players all over the pitch put down markers for test places and although there is a while to go before the first test it looks like Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll will be difficult to look past as the centre partnership. It was always going to be a matter of who would partner O’Driscoll (once he stays fit) but it will be difficult to look past Roberts now.
O'Driscoll/Roberts are a likely Test partnership
In both games so far he has been a physical threat but also has a lot more to bring to the party and can really compliment Brian. I am sure given a chance the newly arriving Gordon Darcy will have something to say about it but for the first Test I have no doubt it will be the Roberts/O’Driscoll partnership that is already inked in.
Other players also showed their worth. Gethin Jenkins at loose head is just exceptional and will be loose head. Tom Croft put down a marker in the back row and Tommy Bowe is also someone who is becoming close to being pencilled in for the Test side. I still think the battle between Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara is one which will go down to the wire.
On that front, I have no doubt that there were some delighted but envious players watching in the stands. These results are great for the tour as a whole and the Lions squad from last night have laid down the gauntlet to the side that will play on Saturday - the Free State Cheetahs.
Pecking order process is now underway
Basically if you cannot perform this weekend you will be well behind in the pecking order come Test selection. The squad will being to split from this week as you would expect the Test side to play against the Western Stormers on Saturday week. That’s how touring works; you get your chance against weaker opposition, and if you take that chance and you get to the top of the pecking order. On the flip side, if you play in a poor game as the 22 who lined out did on Saturday against the Royals you are behind the eight ball and you may not get another chance.
It has to be said that even after this great performance, the team that the Lions play this Saturday in Blomfontein will actually be stronger.
But the team that gets selected will now know the level they must play at to have a chance of selection the following week, when the tour really starts getting towards the business end.
For the moment, you just have to congratulate the Lions for turning it around pretty quickly.
Ian McGeechan and his coaches could not have asked for more.