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Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Friday, 19 June 2009 14:38 UK

Bullish Byrne primed for SA clash

First Test: SOUTH AFRICA v LIONS
Venue: King's Park, Durban
Date: Saturday, 20 June Kick-off: 1400 BST (1500 local time)
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and online. Also live on Sky Sports. Rugby Union on the BBC

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Durban

Lee Byrne against the Sharks
Byrne has been one of the Lions' best players in South Africa

Lions full-back Lee Byrne has revealed the pre-match demons that used to haunt him but is confident he can now cope with taking on the Springboks.

The Wales star has been in prime form in South Africa, but admits he used to get anxious about his game.

"Before I have struggled when people are praising me," he told BBC Sport.

"But now I am really confident, knowing I am playing well. If someone said I was the stand-out player of the tour, I could probably take it now."

Two years ago Byrne failed to make the Wales squad for the 2007 World Cup but the 29-year-old has since developed into one of the best players in world rugby.

When the nerves are tingling before Saturday's first Test in Durban, Byrne is likely be found in a quiet corner of the Lions dressing-room reading a book.

"It is something [Wales and Lions assistant coach] Shaun Edwards gave me," he said. "I used to play the game in my head on a Friday night and by the time it came round I'd be mentally exhausted. I would go out on the field and have nothing left.

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"Shaun told me it was something he used to do as a player and he has given it to a couple of players. It has really helped me a lot. I read anything I can get my hands on really, anything to calm me down.

"Dropping a high ball would have played on my conscience before and I would dwell on that, but now I realise everyone makes mistakes."

Byrne, who has 27 caps, has made precious few over the past two seasons, whether joining the attack with his superb angles of running, pinning the opposition back with his booming kicks or pulling off cover tackles as the last line of defence.

While others might quake at the sight of Springboks running headlong in their direction, Byrne relishes the responsibility of his position.

"Someone described it as being like a goalkeeper in football," he said. "You are the last line of defence and there may be three missed tackles in front of you, but if you miss that last tackle it is your fault, not the other guys.

Shaun Edwards
Defence coach Shaun Edwards spent 14 years at rugby league side Wigan

"So you want to make sure you nail that man, or catch that kick, especially when the ball is hanging up in the air. The pressure is on you and you need that communication from your wingers to tell you how much time you have got left, whether you go up in the air or stay on the ground."

Byrne will have the reassuring presence of his regular Ospreys team-mate, the "on-fire" Tommy Bowe, alongside him on Saturday, with England wing Ugo Monye completing a back three full of attacking potential.

The Welshman has praised the contribution of Neil Jenkins, the former Wales and Lions points machine, for the development of his own outstanding kicking game.

"Neil has helped me a massive amount with the drills he has come up with over the last two Six Nations," Byrne said. "I do a session with him once a week where we go through every different type of kick. It is good to have them all in your armoury."

He enjoys being able to add another "12 to 15m" in length to his kicks in the higher altitude of South Africa's Highveld, where the Lions will return for the second and third Tests in Pretoria and Johannesburg respectively.

MARTYN WILLIAMS COLUMN
Martyn Williams

But his tactical awareness could be a key factor on Saturday against opposite number Francois Steyn, the talented 22-year-old who has stepped in at full-back for the Springboks after Conrad Jantjes was ruled out through injury.

"Steyn is a big kicking full-back but he hasn't played there for two years, so there are areas we are going to target," Byrne revealed.

"Francois Steyn is a big guy. I think he is up to 110kg now and as a full-back that is quite heavy to be running around everywhere. We know he has got a big boot and he is a class player, but I am sure we can move him around a bit."

Byrne also believes that the key to a Lions victory is stopping the Springboks' centre pairing of Jean de Villiers and Adi Jacobs.

"Jacobs is a class support player, he is always on the end of tries," Byrne noted. "De Villiers breaks and offloads to him, so we have to try to stop those and Jacobs getting through the line.

"Bryan Habana is coming back to form and they have solid players all over the park but Jacobs and De Villiers are the key men for us to stop."



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see also
South Africa 26-21 Lions
20 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Jones relishing Boks' lock test
19 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Habana delivers warning to Lions
18 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Roberts loving 'crazy' rugby rise
18 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Brussow handed Springboks start
16 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Sharks 3-39 Lions
10 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Springboks fail to impress in win
27 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Edwards expects Lions 'battle'
21 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Sport Wales - The Byrne identity
03 Feb 09 |  Wales
Lions squad selector
07 May 09 |  Rugby Union
2009 Lions: Squad & results
09 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union


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FROM OTHER SPORT SITES
Sky Sports Lions hopeful over Hook - 2 hrs ago
STV.tv Lions hope for flier against underdone Springboks - 19 hrs ago
Mail Online UK South Africa 26 Lions 21: Late comeback not enough as Boks hang on in Durban - 21 hrs ago
Wales Online Lee Byrne vows to deliver Lions victory - 28 hrs ago


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