SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: The Lions will WIN the series with victory in the second Test against South Africa thanks to totemic captain Alun Wyn Jones… who put in a colossal display last week after his injury nightmare
- The Lions are looking to close out the series with a win in Cape Town on Saturday
- My conviction has been reinforced that the Lions will win series in second Test
- That all the matches are in Cape Town at sea level has also had a massive impact
- Captain Alun Wyn Jones is a colossal leader who is every coach’s dream
Sometimes on a tour, or in a tournament, things start turning in your favour. You cannot control when and how but you can feel when the sporting gods start looking your way. Random stuff happens and suddenly you are the beneficiary, not the victim.
Before this tour I had it down as too close to call, although then, I will always go with my heart and pick the Lions. In the last week, however, there has been a momentum swing. The decision to move all three Tests to sea level because of the Covid rate up on the Veld was massive and there has been so much going on during a fractious week that we have not dug into the implications of that.
Make no mistake, Saturday’s Test would be even more difficult if it was at 6,000 feet in Johannesburg, as was scheduled. The change will suit the Lions, nicely bedded down for a couple of weeks in their luxury Cape Town hotel.
The British and Irish Lions can close out the series against South Africa in the second Test
In Alun Wyn Jones, the Lions have a totemic captain who will ensure no-one has lost their focus
The lack of the crowd has helped neither side but it is particularly hurting the Boks. They need the lift of their fanatical fans and even if the Lions do now bring 30,000 fans, that can be a big boost for the hosts. Feeding off the energy of opposition fans to motivate you is a big part of sport.
The Boks will also be suffering from the lack of a ‘Lions vibe’ around the country. In normal times, they would have made one of their training days an open session this week and got a big crowd in to lift the spirits. Instead, they are operating in a vacuum and if they have been checking out social media it is downbeat and negative.
The lack of crowds and venue changes are all Covid related but then came the random stuff. The Lions played no part in the last-minute appointment of South African Marius Jonker as the series TMO. The Lions rightly registered their displeasure. There should have been a better contingency plan. If the boot had been on the other foot, the Boks would have done the same but the Lions did not go over the top. They made their point and then the media kicked the story about.
Come the match, Jonker had to make four big calls which he got spot on. There is no question, however, the TMO would have felt under pressure to be fair to the away team. And when it came to the possible yellow card for Hamish Watson — definitely a yellow for me — he erred towards leniency although, in fairness, the ref had a perfectly good view and ultimately it was Nic Berry’s call.
Rassie Erasmus has become a distraction for his Springboks team and undermined his coach
So where does that leave us? Well, Jonker is still under pressure. He knows if he makes a 50-50 call against the Lions he could be in for a sticky time from the media. Ditto if he comes down on the side of the Boks. It is unfair on the TMO but it is not the Lions’ fault, it is World Rugby for not having a neutral back-up.
Then came the nonsense with Rassie Erasmus acting as the world’s highest-paid waterboy as he tries to coach. He has become a distraction for his team. None of this is of the Lions’ making, and Gatland milked it a little before opting for silence and letting the media make their own comments.
Erasmus kept going, launching his rant against Berry. If South Africa have any qualms, their coach Jacques Nienaber needs to talk to the refereeing panel. Instead, Erasmus has undermined his own coach. It baffles me that he fails to see you cannot have two leaders at this level.
All these factors are bubbling away and reinforce my conviction that this is the day the Lions can close this series out. But it is not just a gut feeling. There are also sound playing reasons. A Lions pack with Maro Itoje, Tadhg Furlong, Courtney Lawes and Alun Wyn Jones is not going to finish second best.
A Lions pack with Jones, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes (centre) is not going to be second best
The Lions will have their share of possession and have the strength and class across the board. They will have to resist a much stronger Boks effort but I hope they remain positive in attack. Take every point on offer and test a defence that looks vulnerable.
Finally they have their skipper, the remarkable Jones, a totem pole player if ever I saw one. We have become so used to his excellence that his 80-minute shift last week, off the back of his injury and almost no rugby in 10 weeks, was accepted as the norm. It is not, it takes a special individual to conjure that up.
Jones is also a gift for a coach. With him in charge nobody in the squad will have lost focus this week. Those not picked for the 23 will have been supportive of those picked ahead of them. Jones is here on business to win a series and write another chapter in the Lions history. And he is only interested in those who share his dream.