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Page last updated at 07:47 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 08:47 UK

Jeremy Guscott column

Venue: Durban (kick-off 1810 BST) Date: 10 June 2009 Coverage: Live coverage on Sky Sports 2 from 1730 BST and BBC Sport website, second half commentary on Five Live and online. Find complete listings here

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England and Lions centre

This Lions team has the look of a Test side - it contains players who have performed well so far in South Africa and a few others who need a very good performance to really nail down a Test start.

David Wallace and chums take on the Golden Lions defence
Supporting the ball carrier will be crucial for the Lions

All the players should be at full tilt now and they won't be able to hide behind the effects of altitude as an excuse for not performing well, because they are playing the Sharks at sea level in Durban.

Lions boss Ian McGeechan won't be worried at all about how the Sharks might play, because his only concern will be about building a team and a style of play that suits the Lions.

Wednesday's back row looks good. It's quick and with Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft playing at number eight and blind-side respectively, it also gives the team a couple more line-out options.

Against the Golden Lions last week this back row unit produced some good moments but they will have to tighten up for the Sharks.

One area they really need to make an impact is at the breakdown and David Wallace has to take the lead in this area.

He has to be first in to rucks on the first phase and his colleagues need to back up well in the phases that follow.

There is a good reason why a lot of people have been mentioning the breakdown area and how important it is, because this is where games can be won and lost.


At Test level victory is secured by taking care of the small details better than your opposition and the Lions will have to be very precise to get the better of the Springboks.

In order to do that they should be putting in a lot of work in practice on their work at the breakdown when they are attacking.

They should be concentrating on the ball carrier - if he's going into contact what is everyone's role?

There are lots of scenarios which could develop. What happens when he goes to ground? What happens if he stays on his feet, or is half taken down?

It is vitally important that players read what's in front of them in these situations because making the correct decision is critical to controlling the next phase of play and how quickly the ball is recycled after contact.

Jamie Heaslip puts in a tackle against the Golden Lions
Jamie Heaslip is trying to cement his place as the Test number eight

I always panic a bit when I see a forward taking the ball into contact on his own, unless he's taking the ball at pace, and even then it's likely he will be penalised for holding on to the ball because support can't get to him quick enough.

Contact should always be taken on the terms of the ball carrier, but that is only the first part because he then needs his team-mates coming in to secure possession.

Often it will be your fellow back rowers arriving first and they need to be in the correct positions either side of the ball carrier to protect the ball and make it almost certain that it comes back on the right side.

But all forwards have to contribute and your second and front row forwards must also be adept at preventing the opposition from slowing ball down, but without giving penalties away.

If you get isolated and lose possession you not only halt your attack, you may also give the opposition prime attacking ball as well.

This all needs to take place at pace and it can be difficult to execute well, but one team which does it to perfection is the All Blacks.

They are technically very good because they are fit and have a high skill level - watch them play and you will see how it's done.

That's not to say the Lions can't do it as well and against the Golden Lions the tourists produced a lot of phases that were tight and secure, which would have pleased McGeechan and his coaches no end.

They were not so impressive against the Cheetahs and McGeechan will be hoping they dominate the breakdown in Durban and the subsequent Test series because whoever wins that area of the game will almost certainly take the match as well.

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