by Conor O'Shea
I don’t know what was more interesting tonight, the match or the endless debate surrounding selection, the commentary team reading into substitutions as if they were portents for selection for the weekend.
Certainly the weather for the game probably summed up the mood within the Lions camp and the supporters must be wondering where all the famed Cape weather is.
Well sadly for them, South African winters aren’t all good and Capetown can go from the beautiful to the brutal quickly and it is no fun. At least they are almost guaranteed good weather in the remaining two Tests, which are both at altitude.
The fun is over now and the only redemption for the Lions is winning.
The Emerging Boks deserved their 13-13 draw from the game and they must have wished they had the control of Willem De Waal on the pitch from an early stage in the game and also Danwel Demas on the wing, who had caused the tourists no end of problems earlier in the tour and scored the equalising try.
Emerging Boks took it to the Lions
This was a game the Lions played against a relatively inexperienced side with not a Test cap amongst them and they would have expected to win, but the conditions were a leveller and the Emerging Boks really took it to Ian McGeechan's men.
If you want any indication of how and why the Lions can turn things around for the Test this weekend then you have to trust in the management, and the way they have handled Keith Earls is testament to their skills.
Earls could easily have been cast aside after the first game, but full-back has given him room to breathe and, although still capable of errors like coming in off his man to allow Demas his easy try at the end of the game, he still did a huge amount right other than just taking his try with a now trademark step and go.
The management could have discarded him but they didn’t and he has grown on this tour.
What else did we learn in terms of selection from the night? Not a huge amount from the game, Simon Shaw came on and was outstanding but surely cannot jump above Donncha O’Callaghan for selection this weekend.
If he does it would be unfair and surely if we talk combinations complementing each other like Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, then Paul O’Connell and O’Callaghan deserve their shot at the best second rows in the world.
What did O'Gara's substitution mean?
Other tea leaves being read on the night were the timing of O’Gara’s substitution to allow Hook on. Did it mean Hook was been given the chance to take Ronan’s place on the bench or was O’Gara been rested for the weekend?
O’Gara will not take Stephen Jones’ place because of the Welsh half-back combination of Phillips and Jones holding fort. I have said it before, but if O’Leary was there O’Gara would be starting, as it is he will remain on the bench.
Other decisions are more straight forward with Phil Vickery thankfully coming on on Tuesday night and earning a late penalty for the Lions from a scrum for what should have been the insurance score. Vickery was back on the horse but will definitely be out of the team along with Lee Mears to allow an all-Welsh front row to go from the start.
If they do bolster the front five, the back row must remain intact; there can’t be that many changes and although Martyn Williams is the outstanding out and out 7 available he will best serve the Lions after the initial onslaught from the Boks.
As I have said, 9 and 10 won’t change and the O’Driscoll/Roberts axis is inked in stone. The back three will also need changing and if Lee Byrne is unfit then Rob Kearney will play.
Fitzgerald set to take his place?
He probably should anyway and as I said last week it was and is my belief that Ugo Moyne would start the series but Luke Fitzgerald would finish the series at 11 for the Lions. It should happen this weekend. Wings are paid to finish and Moyne fluffed his lines. With talent to burn, Fitzgerald gets my nod.
So I think the team for the second Test will read: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
One other point to note from Tuesday night’s post-match interviews was Warren Gatland’s interview stating that in the Test match that only one team came out to play rugby and he quoted a whole host of stats to back this up.
All the stats were absolutely correct but the Springboks have always played a game based on a formidable pack, a kicking game and their backs and team reacting to turnovers and scoring from there.
They were never going to run against the Lions rush defence and they didn’t so I hope it was no surprise to the Lions management and it must be Gatland’s way of trying to get the Boks to play a game they just don’t employ.
Where the Lions comeback stem from?
It won’t work and the Boks will be a more formidable opposition this week in Pretoria, and only this weekend will we know was it the Lions gameplan wearing them down, as Warren Gatland believes, or the Boks coaches removing the spine of their team too early?
My feeling is it was the latter and the Lions have lost their chance.
Finally, well done to Ireland ‘A’ on a brilliant win over the England Saxons (‘A’) on Sunday evening in the Churchill Cup. Another shot in the arm delivered by Declan Kidney and his merry band against an England team unbeaten at that level for nearly three years.