Edwards demands Lions raise the bar
June 1, 2009
Lions assistant coach Shaun Edwards speaks to the media in Johannesburg on Tuesday © Getty Images
Shaun Edwards has demanded the Lions lay down a marker in their second tour clash against the Golden Lions.
The tourists stumbled to an opening victory over the Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday and Edwards has warned his side that their cannot be a repeat performance.
"We can't go into this game with any excuses," said the Lions' assistant coach and defence specialist. "We need to put a marker down and play for the full 80 minutes. I thought in the last 20 minutes on Saturday we played very well and showed a lot of spirit but we need to do that for 80 minutes. To have any chance against the Springboks, you can't have any lapses."
Edwards looked on at the Royal Bakofeng Stadium as the Lions' defence leaked three tries to an invitational who came close to upsetting their illustrious rivals. And the former Great Britain rugby league star revealed he had received some gentle encouragement from the South African public.
"A few South African people have asked what I do with the Lions," he added. "I said I am the defence coach and a few of them wished me good luck, adding that I might need it, which does add a little bit more motivation. If you can't handle the pressure, you shouldn't put yourself up for the job. I am well aware of the expectation.
"We had put a lot of work into last Saturday and the first half went a bit pear-shaped, as the saying goes. We've worked pretty hard on certain aspects of our defence and we need to be on the money on Wednesday night. Letting three tries in, you are not going to win a Test series against the Springboks.
"When the players go out on the pitch they are an extension of me. If they miss a tackle or make an error, I am out there with them, not in body, but in spirit."
Lions boss Ian McGeechan has made 12 changes for the Ellis Park examination against a team that mainly struggled in this season's Super 14 but finished the competition strongly and can call on some proven game-breakers. The Lions are well aware of a threat posed by players like half-backs Andre Pretorius and Jano Vermaak, in addition to rampaging number eight Willem Alberts.
"The Golden Lions have got a big ball-carrying number eight, they've got a good scrum, some powerful centres and Pretorius at fly-half, who is a great stepper," acknowledged Edwards. "Their number nine (Vermaak) is a real box of tricks - there is energy about him. I've watched him quite a bit this season and he is a player I admire."
The touring Lions, though, should have benefited considerably from another few days' training at altitude, while their line-up includes four debutants - fullback Rob Kearney, wing Ugo Monye, lock Nathan Hines and flanker Tom Croft.
"You look at the Super 14 final (last Saturday) where a team with seven All Blacks arrived three days before the game, played at altitude and conceded more than 50 points," said Edwards. "We've done eight days at altitude now and I would like to think the players will have a bit more energy and zest than possibly we had last weekend. It was quite evident in the first half the guys were feeling the pinch a little bit.
"It (the tour) is the ultimate challenge, really. You've got seven weeks to pit your wits against the world champions, who have been together for seven years in the core of their team. That's what makes it all that more challenging and exciting.
"If you do manage to pull it off, it would be incredibly rewarding. It's probably the biggest thing in rugby, along with the World Cup."
Firdose Moonda talks to Rob Louw about the difficulties of being a South African touring New Zealand at the height of Apartheid
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games