From Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
At the start of the Lions tour if you had offered Ian McGeechan five wins from the first five matches on the tour he would have bitten you hand off. So, even though the victory over Western Province was another less than convincing performance it puts the Lions in a far better position than anyone could have imagined.
The conditions also shouldn’t be underestimated with a swirling wind and driving rain the Lions (and Western Province) went for the sort of kicking dual that drives me crazy, and sends me to sleep.
But crucially there is quality across this Lions squad and in the final quarter they were able to bring on Scotland tighthead Euan Murray and the talented Welshman James Hook.
And in the final moments Murray won two penalties at the scrum, while Hook kicked a 50-yard penalty to win the game. That’s what you get from the Lions.
The quality came from Tommy Bowe, who is quickly becoming the man of the tour. His finishing for the first try was world-class, while his run to set up Ugo Monye’s try was equally impressive.
In terms of players who will play in the Test matches this side probably had the least and it may be that only or five of the starting fifteen against Western Province will still be around next Saturday when the serious stuff starts in Durban.
The spirit in the squad is certainly a big factor and as Phil Vickery says he has never known such spirit in any team he has been involved with – McGeechan, Gatland, Edwards and Howley should take the praise for that as they have set the tone.
One factor the Springboks may not have considered closely is that although they are at home it looks unlikely that they will have more than half of the crowd on their side. The magnificent Lions fans made themselves know at Newlands against Western Province and like in Australia in 2001 could be the difference between winning and losing the first Test.
For me those who helped their Test match cause against Western Province were:
Euan Murray – Is now certain of at least a place on the bench as he is so destructive at the scrum.
Martyn Williams – Did enough to ensure the battle between him and David Wallace for the No 7 shirt will be one of Geech’s hardest decisions. I make Williams a point ahead.
Tommy Bowe – First name on the team sheet
Ugo Monye – Another close one with Luke Fitzgerald. Nothing between them
James Hook – He may be edging past O’Gara for a place on the bench next Saturday.
But what do you think about the game and selection for next Saturday? Who do you think should start at 7?