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Martyn Williams column

Martyn Williams
By Martyn Williams
Wales and Lions flanker

Sometimes you learn more from grinding out a victory than winning by 40 or 50 points.

Lions flanker Martyn Williams
Williams helped create the Lions' final try for Ronan O'Gara

Saturday's game against the Royal XV has certainly been a wake-up call for the Lions and given us a lot to focus on. If we'd cruised to victory, people might have been patting us on the back and telling us how great we were.

We certainly didn't play as we would have liked. The little errors cost us and took the momentum out of our game. We got ourselves into some good positions early on but didn't take those opportunities, which was down to rustiness I think.

For example I can't remember the last time my Wales team-mate Shane Williams dropped the ball over the try line, as he did on Saturday.

Hopefully those errors are out of our systems now. As the game wore on, we kept telling each other that if we held onto the ball and cut out the errors we'd be fine. And that's what we did.

We went through the phases in the last 15 minutes, kept the ball and scored some good tries.

The coaches weren't too hard on us when we had our match debrief on Sunday. They always knew we were going into this first game a little bit undercooked.

Some of us hadn't played for weeks and the conditions were also a nightmare, some of the toughest I've ever encountered as a rugby player. As soon as I ran onto the pitch on Saturday, the heat hit me. Then when the game started, the altitude took the wind out of my lungs and I felt very lethargic.


The coaches have told us it takes eight days to get used to altitude, so the boys who play against the Golden Lions on Wednesday should be fully adjusted to it.

I was reasonably pleased with my own performance against the Royals. I know people criticised the work of the team at the breakdown and I admit that is a big part of my job as a back-row forward.

But a big lesson from the Lions' tour of New Zealand in 2005 is that everyone has a job to do at the breakdown. If you look at the best sides in the world, all their players are very efficient in that area, from loose-head props to centres. That's what we need to develop.

I thought David Wallace did really well alongside me. He was only told he would be playing the day before the game. He hadn't been training at number eight for the two weeks we've been together and suddenly had to adjust to new calls. So full marks to him for the way he played.

Lions centre Keith Earls
Earls endured a Lions debut to forget in Rustenburg

I'd also like to say a few words about Keith Earls, who has come in for a bit of criticism. One or two things didn't go his way, admittedly, but he's a class player and will prove that through the rest of the tour.

Keith has trained better than anyone in the last two weeks and looks like he's going to be an absolute star.

Like a few of the other lads, he was probably affected by nerves. You've got to remember that eight of the starting line-up were making their debuts for the Lions and that was a big deal for them.

Gerald Davies, Ian McGeechan and Paul O'Connell had made short speeches before we left the Wigwam hotel in Rustenburg for the game. Then Gerald presented the players with their jerseys one by one.

I think that was when the magnitude of being a Lion probably hit some of the lads and I must admit the bus was very quiet on the way to the stadium.

Keith will be a very happy man on Tuesday, when he gets to hand the Lions mascot, a cuddly toy he's nicknamed Lenny the Lion, onto Leigh Halfpenny.

It's a tradition that the youngest player on tour carries the mascot everywhere with him. If he doesn't he gets a fine. This is a privilege on one hand, but it must also be bit of a bind and Keith must be pleased Leigh will soon be the youngest player in the squad.

One of the big lessons I've learned as a Lion is not to dwell on the past too much. There are only three clear days between matches, so you have to learn quickly from your mistakes and move on. As I keep saying, it's all about peaking for that first Test match.

Martyn Williams was talking to BBC Sport's Simon Austin

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see also
O'Driscoll to lead new-look Lions
01 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions suffer Earls injury setback
31 May 09 |  Rugby Union
South Africa announce Lions squad
01 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions display worries O'Connell
30 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Royal XV 25-37 Lions
30 May 09 |  Rugby Union
2009 Lions: Squad & results
09 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions squad selector
07 May 09 |  Rugby Union
History of the Lions
02 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Mighty Boks: South African rugby
01 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union

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