White unimpressed by tame Lions
May 31, 2009
Former Boks coach Jake White thinks the Lions lack the grunt to compete with South Africa © Getty Images
Former South Africa coach Jake White has questioned the British & Irish Lions' ability to compete with the Springboks.
White, who steered South Africa to Rugby World Cup glory in 2007, insists yesterday's unconvincing 37-25 victory over the Royal XV highlighted the fact that the Lions do not have a pack will be able to compete with the Springboks in their forthcoming three-Test series.
The Royal XV, led 25-13 with just 15 minutes left but the Lions finished strongly, as Alun-Wyn Jones and Ronan O'Gara scored late tries to follow earlier touchdowns by Tommy Bowe and Lee Byrne, while O'Gara added 17 points from the boot.
And White warned Lions head coach Ian McGeechan that his men will stand little chance against the world champions unless there is a major improvement before the first Test in Durban on June 20.
"One concern for Ian McGeechan and the coaching staff was that was almost their Test pack," White told Sportsweek on Radio Five Live. "People in South Africa would have thought that pack they put on the field would be the pack to play in the first Test match, and the way they played yesterday was by no means good enough to take on a Springbok pack of forwards in the first Test match.
"I was a bit surprised. I thought it was going to be a one-sided affair. I thought the Lions would dominate the game. There are not too many big names in that Royal XV but you realise that to play rugby in South Africa is a different challenge. I am sure there will be lessons learned for the Lions yesterday."
McGeechan would disagree with White that yesterday's forward pack is destined to play in the first Test, having stressed from the outset that selection will not be made until the week of the game. The Lions were also missing key Test contenders yesterday, including two forwards who could well feature against the Springboks in Euan Murray and Tom Croft.
Jamie Heaslip came onto the bench as a late replacement from the injured Stephen Ferris but otherwise all the Leicester, Leinster and Northampton players - Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Harry Ellis, Murray and Croft - were rested after their European final exploits last weekend.
"It is always going to be an uphill battle to get the combinations right, particularly with the Leinster and Leicester players not available for the first weekend," said White. "That made it a lot more difficult for the coaching staff to get a team together."
White believes the Springboks - boosted by the Bulls' Super 14 title triumph yesterday - will prove too strong for the Lions when the Test series begins.
"South Africa have got a very special group of players together," he said. "They have won the Super 14 campaign. There are players part of the Springbok set-up who have won junior World Cups, senior World Cups and now the Super 14. There is no reason why South Africa can't win the series with the group of players they have."
White is opening a coaching academy with former Saracens and Australia boss Eddie Jones but admitted he would always be interested in an opportunity to get involved with England. Before the last World Cup, White was approached by the Rugby Football Union to apply for the job of elite director, which was eventually filled by Rob Andrew.
"England are a team that suits the way I coach and probably suits the way I coached in the past in the Springbok team," said White. "The reality is England is a team which has got everything. It has history, tradition, a record at the World Cup which is better than most countries and it has a desire to do well.
"I know England has always been a team I have looked at. They play the same sort of style as South Africa. They have got the best Test record in terms of World Cups. They have played in six and been to the final three times. It is one country I have always made it quite clear would excite me."