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Page last updated at 17:24 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 18:24 UK

Vickery backed to take on 'Beast'

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Johannesburg

Tim Vickery
Vickery endured a torrid time in the first Test

British and Irish Lions prop Phil Vickery has been backed to rise to the "huge psychological challenge" offered by Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira.

During the first Test in Durban, Mtawarira gave Vickery the most uncomfortable 45 minutes of his career.

But with Adam Jones injured, Vickery is expected to resume at tight-head for Saturday's final Test in Johannesburg.

"I've no doubt if selected he'll go out there and give a good display," said Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree.

"'Vicks' is one of the strongest characters I have come across in the game, both as a fellow player and someone I have coached."

"It is going to be tough, let's not beat about the bush, because it was an uncomfortable day at the office in Durban, as he admits himself," added Rowntree, referring to the first Test when Vickery was hauled off in the second half.

There is no place in the game for gouging and to hear a national coach almost say it is OK is ridiculous

Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree

"But there is no-else out there with his strength of character. As an individual I have never come across anyone better."

A change at tight-head is one of at least three changes the Lions must make before finalising their starting XV for the series finale at Johannesburg's Ellis Park having already lost the two Tests.

Andrew Sheridan is expected to replace Gethin Jenkins, who suffered a fractured cheekbone during the second Test, at loose-head prop.

Veteran Ireland prop John Hayes, who came out to replaced injured Scot Euan Murray, is the other tight-head alternative to Vickery, who is expected to recover from a slight throat infection, with Tim Payne also in the mix as likely bench cover.

With the talismanic Brian O'Driscoll ruled out of the final Test, there was at least a positive bulletin on his centre partner Jamie Roberts, who suffered a wrist injury in the second Test.

The Welshman trained on Wednesday but was not involved in contact work, so a final decision on whether he has recovered sufficiently will be taken on Thursday.

The Lions could switch Roberts to outside centre if he is fit, with Riki Flutey likely to start at 12, but James Hook, Keith Earls and Gordon D'Arcy will also come into the midfield equation.

Lions coach Graham Rowntree
Rowntree has joined in the criticism of Boks coach De Villiers

The other doubts after a brutal second Test, wing Tommy Bowe (elbow) and fly-half Ronan O'Gara (eye) are both expected to be available for selection.

While the Lions turn their attention to trying to avoid a first ever series whitewash in South Africa, the furore over Schalk Burger's ban for eye-gouging Luke Fitzgerald in the first minute of the second Test continues to rumble on.

After O'Driscoll's "repulsion" at the reluctance of Peter de Villiers to condemn gouging and acknowledge Burger's guilt, Rowntree has become the first member of the Lions management team to criticise the Springboks coach.

"He was completely out of order and I agree with 'Drico'," Rowntree said. "It think it was a crass comment, pathetic really. I am glad he has had to withdraw it.

"There is no place in the game for gouging and to hear a national coach almost say it is OK is ridiculous. We are upset by it. You can't get away with making those comments.

"But the incident has been dealt with now, Burger's been banned, and we move on.

"It is going to be hard enough playing this game anyway rather than thinking about emotions from the week before."

Rowntree revealed the players were "absolutely shattered" emotionally and physically after Saturday's devastating 28-25 last-second defeat in Pretoria.

But after three days off, including a break at a safari park north of Johannesburg, they returned to training on Wednesday "with a spring in their step".

Despite having lost seven of the original squad that arrived in South Africa to injury, Rowntree believes the ones who remain are sufficiently motivated by the thought that they "don't deserve to go home having lost the series 3-0."

"Historically at the end of a Lions tour, the squad is held together by elastoplast," Rowntree added.

"But we have been very careful with the players' conditioning and the amount of training they have done. Apart from injuries, these guys are still in good nick. They have still got plenty left in the tank."

After six weeks together though, and a second successive shattering Test defeat, it would still be something of a minor miracle for the Lions to deny the Springboks a 3-0 series victory.


"We came here to win," said captain Paul O'Connell. "You don't come for big performances when you lose. Sure we have enjoyed the tour and the players have really aspired to achieve so much and win for the Lions.

"But the real enjoyment comes from winning, and the feeling in the dressing-room after you win a Test or a big club game is the best feeling in rugby. In the last two weeks we have come close but unfortunately we haven't had that.

"But we have had three days off and there is a real eagerness there to finish the tour on a high. Being 2-0 down is not a true reflection of where we see ourselves. The big motivation for all the team is to win in a Lions jersey."

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see also
Gouging penalties to be reviewed
02 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union
O'Driscoll criticises De Villiers
30 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Boks coach backs down over Burger
29 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions lose O'Driscoll for finale
30 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
SA's Burger handed eight-week ban
29 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
South Africa 28-25 Lions
27 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Burger 'gouge' angers Fitzgerald
27 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
South Africa 26-21 Lions
20 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union

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