Skeate targets strong showing against Lions
Graham Jenkins in Port Elizabeth
June 15, 2009
South African lock Ross Skeate appeared for the ultimate invitational side - the Barbarians - against Ireland last year © Getty Images
Mike Blair Harry Ellis Riki Flutey Ian McGeechan Donncha O'Callaghan Ross Skeate Jonny Wilkinson Shane Williams
The Lions' latest opponents hope to form part of the soon-to-be-expanded Super Rugby competition in 2011 and will eventually be fed by the Border, Eastern Province and South Western Districts unions in the Eastern Cape. However, for this clash an invitational side has been formed including Skeate, currently plying his trade with Toulon in France's Top 14.
The team, that also features former Springboks in Skeate's second row partner Marco Wentzel, flanker Solly Tyibilika, flay-half Jaco van der Westhuysen, centre De Wet Barry and fullback Bevin Fortuin, may be lacking in terms of preparation but will not be found wanting when it comes to commitment to the cause according to former Western Province and Stormers star Skeate.
"I promise there will be a lot of attitude and desire," the 26-year-old said on the eve of the Nelson Mandela Bay clash. "That's something we've really highlighted in training on attack and especially in defence."
Skeate has also backed the Southern Kings' untried selection to hold their own against their more illustrious opponents despite just a little over a week's preparation.
"I think we have a big and solid tight five with Jacob Engels, Derick Kuun and Ruan Vermeulen," insisted Skeate, who interrupted a holiday in his homeland to take on the Lions. "These guys love hitting rucks and clearing out so hopefully that will give us a good base. We've also got a great fetcher in Solly Tyibilika and Mpho Mbiyozo can also win us a lot of ball. I'm looking forward to it and the boys will definitely be up for it."
Southern Kings coach Alan Solomons, who has previously worked with the Springboks, the Stormers and Ulster, will have no doubt noted the success that some of the Lions' opponents have had at the breakdown and that fact has not been lost on Skeate either who also hinted that the Kings have been given a license to thrill should the opportunity arise.
"The breakdown is important in any rugby game but it will be extremely important tomorrow," he said. "The Lions are big, strong and physical team that play Test standard rugby and they make few mistakes. We've got to front up on defence and win our first-up tackles and when we have got ball in hand stick to the structures that we've got and basically let the guys be themselves. If they want to go through a half gap and off-load, which all these players are capable of, then so be it."
A former Newlands favourite, Skeate thought his former team mates at Western Province were unlucky not to upset the Lions in Cape Town last weekend but has respect for what the tourists have produced in such a short space of time.
"They stuttered against the Royal XV but from then on I have been very impressed," he said. "I've always felt that these players are not Lions for nothing, they are all internationals, with hundreds of caps between them and they have done very well. They have been taken to the wire in a couple of games but they have kept their composure in the final minutes which you must give them credit for."
If Skeate and his team mates are looking for inspiration they need only look to the record books and their 1955 predecessors. Five members of the Border team that defeated the British Lions 14-12 during their 1955 tour of South Africa will be reunited at Tuesday's clash. Bill Loppnow, Hilmer Puchert, Tony Viljoen, Chappie Moll and Bill Cunningham are among only eight survivors of the team who scored that historic triumph and whose limited preparation time will offer hope to the Kings.
"What makes that win back so remarkable was that we only had one training session, which was on the Thursday before the game," recalled the now 82-year-old Loppnow. "There were no programs like the teams follow today, no real team-building sessions ahead of the game; we just arrived at training on the Thursday as ordinary club players from all corners of the Eastern Cape and played with a lot of passion and pride."
His sentiments were echoed by Viljoen. "It's going to be interesting, yet exciting to travel to Port Elizabeth and watch the Lions live in action again," said the 75-year-old. "Obviously we were literally amateurs back then and these guys that will represent the Kings are full-on professionals, they probably train twice a day. So it will be interesting to see how the game goes."
The 1955 Lions went on to share the Test series with South Africa 2-2 - a fate that cannot befall either side this year with just three matches schedule for Durban (June 20), Pretoria (June 27) and Johannesburg (July 4). Skeate will be a keen observer when the Test series kicks off at Kings Park this Saturday and believes South Africa coach Peter De Villiers may come to regret withdrawing the vast majority of his squad from the warm-up games.
"I was surprised they didn't let the Boks play the provincial matches," added Skeate. "I would have thought it would have been in their favour to have given them some game time for their unions.
"They obviously eliminate the injury worry by not having their guys in action but some of these guys will not have played for five weeks. To be honest I think I would have preferred to see the guys play 15 or 20 minutes, something as little as that would have done. I think the Springboks have a huge task ahead of them. A lot of people are backing the Springboks to take the Lions 3-0 in the Test series but I'm not so sure about that."
After his brush with the Lions, Skeate's attention will return to domestic matters with Toulon where he is ready to welcome new signing Jonny Wilkinson to the multi-national and multi-talented playing squad.
"It's a great signing for the club, he's a massive name," said Skeate, who made the switch to France last summer. "But Jonny is not a big name for nothing. I think he is a great player. There is that injury cloud above him but I think he will put that behind him and be a really great pivot for us, controlling play and kicking penalties. I think he will be great for the club."