Time for Gregor to earn his coin - Andy Goode
The British & Irish Lions have all the tools at their disposal in the match day 23 on Saturday and it’s time for Gregor Townsend to prove his credentials as an attack coach.
Warren Gatland’s side have shown next to nothing in attack over the course of the first two Tests and have been drawn into the type of battle the Springboks relish but the only way to win the third Test is for Townsend to show why he’s considered one of the brightest attacking minds in the northern hemisphere.
The Scotland coach was close to going on the 2017 tour as an assistant coach and has waited another four years to be in this position, so now is his time to step up.
He did it as a player with the Lions in South Africa in 1997 when many people were surprised that he was picked at fly half, with Neil Jenkins shifted to full back. That cemented his reputation as a number 10 and this can do so as a coach.
If we’re honest, the Lions have gone back into their shell ever since Elliot Daly got absolutely smoked by Lukhanyo Am in the first Test and they need to come out of it and start throwing some shots of their own or there’ll be regrets aplenty when they’re quarantining in Jersey next week.
The players and coaches knew exactly what was coming from South Africa, as we all did, and there’s only one winner if the third Test is another slow-paced affair dominated by box kicks, driving lineouts, set piece and the aerial battle.
The Lions need to roll the dice if they are to replicate the success of 1997 and beat the Springboks. They have the tools to do it but we’re yet to see if they’ve got the attacking game plan to pull it off.
Every team holds a few things back in reserve so it’ll be interesting to see what the Lions have up their sleeve in attack for the big occasion. You go in with a sheet of at least 20 plays for different scenarios and areas of the field but almost all of those go out the window when you’re forced onto the back foot.
The old saying goes that forwards win matches and backs decide by how many. The Lions pack were distinctly second best last week and they need to at least achieve parity, as they did in the first Test, or Townsend’s job will be nigh on impossible.
However, it isn’t Dan Biggar’s fault that he only had three passes in last week’s match and Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki have shown in an Ireland shirt that they aren’t just crash ball merchants so they all need to be given license to express themselves.
Liam Williams might have been brought in for his prowess under the high ball as much as his attacking talent but Josh Adams has been picked purely for his finishing ability. The Lions need to get him and Duhan van der Merwe the ball.
Clearly, the absence of Faf de Klerk will help. Cobus Reinach isn’t a bad replacement at all but there won’t quite be the same accuracy on the box kicks or the Springboks may play a little bit more off 10, which may open up just a few more chances.
For the Lions, it isn’t about throwing the ball all over the place and going wide at every opportunity but we need to see more tip on plays and shifting South Africa’s big bodies around, combined with a bit more innovation from time to time.
The bench has played a major role in the first two Tests with the Springboks having a massive advantage last week but I think it’s the Lions who have the edge in that department for this one.
The Boks have their usual front row reinforcements to bring on but I don’t think the likes of Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Morne Steyn and co are going to change the game as much as Lood de Jager did last week.
In contrast, the Lions have gamebreakers everywhere you look on the bench. The front row are all powerful impact players who are comfortable with ball in hand, Adam Beard is as athletic as they come in the second row and Sam Simmonds is waiting to explode.
I actually don’t think Finn Russell will be used unless Biggar gets injured or the Lions are more than 10 points down but we know the magic he possesses if called upon.
Whether it’s in the second half when those players come on or the first half, the Lions have to play with tempo this week and put South Africa under the sort of duress that forces them into errors.
Townsend has a reputation that has come from his playing days through into his coaching as a bright attacking mind. We haven’t seen that yet on this Lions tour but now is the time to roll the dice and for him to earn his coin.
The potential is there for the Lions to do it but if they play in the same manner as the first two Tests, the Springboks win by six for me. Townsend holds the keys and let’s hope he gives them to Biggar so he can unlock a few doors this week.
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