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Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England and Lions centre

The Lions won their opening tour game but it was a disappointing performance to say the least.

Paul O'Connell on the charge on Saturday
O'Connell will need to up his game in the coming weeks

They never really got going against the Royal XV and whatever gameplan was put in place never materialised.

Captain Paul O'Connell didn't have his best game. I thought he would be absolutely bursting with energy, throwing any Royal XV player that stood in his way off the park and into the stands.

It is good that O'Connell likes to carry the ball, but I would like to see him off-load or pass more than he does - it will add pace to the Lions' game.

I expected the Lions to be disjointed for the first 20-30 minutes, but they looked clueless for large parts of the match and Lee Byrne and Jamie Roberts were the only Lions players to put their hands up for Test selection.

Conceding three tries will be a big worry to defence coach Shaun Edwards, who has stressed the point that defence will be crucial in winning the Test series.

The Lions lacked cohesion and struggled to play with the sort of tempo or aggression they will need to unsettle the Boks - South Africa coach Peter De Villiers will be encouraged by what he saw on Saturday.

606: DEBATE
JS

Against a team like the Royal XV the Lions needed to play a simple, straightforward game at pace to bring every player into the match.

The key is to get your set-piece right and have your backs running straight and hard. That will give a platform to build from.

The Lions scrum was solid but the back row didn't capitalise on that superiority. David Wallace looked out of sorts at number eight and he didn't combine well with scrum-half Mike Blair, who had a poor game.

Part of the reason the Lions backs just didn't get going was down to Blair's poor service.

Too many players looked far too nervous, making silly little mistakes that kept the Royal XV in a match they should never have got as close to winning as they did.

Lee Byrne takes on the Royal XV defence on Saturday
Byrne confirmed his status as the favourite to be the Test full-back

It just goes to show how nerve wracking for some players these Lions tours can be.

It does take time to come together but the first game usually gives you some good signs about what your players are going to offer you.

On this showing the forwards definitely need to be given a rocket in their next training session because they need to get some dynamism into their play - they need much more aggression.

Because the forwards never really got going, it was always going to be tough for the backs to make a big impression.

There were signs early on that the Lions were going to play it simple.

Roberts ran some good lines and got over the gain line with some ease, but it went wrong after that as mistakes and wrong decisions knocked the Lions off course for the rest of the first half.

The second half was much better and it was encouraging that try scoring opportunities were created.

But the stark reality is the Lions forwards have got to get a lot more physical or they may as well head back home right now.



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see also
Royal XV 25-37 Lions
30 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions display worries O'Connell
30 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott column
29 May 09 |  English
Jeremy Guscott column
19 May 09 |  English
Jeremy Guscott column
08 May 09 |  English
Jeremy Guscott column
05 May 09 |  Rugby Union


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