June International Tours

Halfpenny ruled out as Lions focus on rucks

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They’re definitely not on-dimensional, but the British and Irish Lions have again emphasised the importance of the rucks and during a media conference on Tuesday they stated that the rucks could decide their fate in their match against the Sharks in Durban on Wednesday night.


Tour captain Paul O’Connell made no bones about it. “We had nine players on the field for the first time on Saturday (against the Cheetahs).”


“It often happens that players concentrate on the game plan so much that they forget about being physical,” he said about the fact that the Cheetahs were better in the rucks than the tourists.


“The rucks are what we have to work on. It’s the most important part of the game (and the basis for) providing quick ball. We have worked hard (on the breakdown) over the past few days as we have throughout.”


With Sharks coach Johann Muller also emphasising the importance of the breakdown, and the Lions playing with what is possibly their Test loose trio of Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace and Joe Worsley, this should give an idea whether they have taken another step up at the breakdown.


Against them they have the smallish but very hard and competitive Keegan Daniels at No 8, a good fetcher in Jacques Botes and big carrier in Jean Deysel.


The Lions will no doubt make it their focus to beat the Sharks to the breakdown and overwhelm them with physicality. The Sharks will probably give them some of the Bulls’ medicine of kicking onto them and then forming what they hope will be an impenetrable defensive line.


Whether this will work, remains to be seen. The Sharks, for all their good defence in their own quarter during the Super 14 campaign, were not good in defending in open play, and with a new-look side the communication against a good side could perhaps let them down.


The Lions, one feels, will again run it more than necessary.


Perhaps it is their plan to let the Springboks know as little of their game plan as possible, perhaps it is just a way of giving everyone the feel of the ball in a phase of the tour where they are still learning one another’s strengths, weaknesses and running lines.


Ronan O’Gara at flyhalf, who was quiet though effective on the first tour match, will no doubt mix it more than James Hook – for all his well-placed kicks – did last week, as the tourists place a high premium on winning.


The momentum it brings is important to them, as highlighted by O’Connell last week.


And yes, don’t forget the scrums. It’s again a new-look combination for the tourists, but it will show whether they have what it takes in a facet where South Africa could be found wanting come the Tests.


Meanwhile Leigh Halfpenny, who only joined the Lions last week and had his first outing against the Cheetahs after a troublesome quad kept him in Cardiff for rehabilitation, has injured the same quad and went for a scan on Tuesday, the result of which is not yet known.


It is thought to be not as serious as the one sustained before the Lions’ departure from the UK. His place on the bench for the Sharks clash will be taken by Hook.


Stephen Ferris also went for a scan on a knee injury, but the result of his scan is also not known at this stage.


Teams


Sharks: Stefan Terblanche, Chris Jordaan, Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel, Luzuko Vulindlu, Monty Dumond, Rory Kockott, Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Johann Muller (captain), Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, Skipper Badenhorst, Deon Carstens.


Replacements: Craig Burden, Patrick Cilliers, Albert van den Berg, Michael Rhodes, Charl McLeod, Guy Cronje, Lwazi Mvovo.


British and Irish Lions: Lee Byrne, Shane Williams, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Luke Fitzgerald, Ronan O’Gara, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Lee Mears, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell (captain), T

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