Some things, it seems, never change.
You can have as much modern-day coaching jargon as you want, but as a young player learning my trade with Pontypool and Wales several decades ago I had it drummed into me that success in rugby was based upon the following three things – 80 per cent fitness, 10 per cent ability and 10 per cent luck.
But don’t try one without the other.
READ MORE:The Lions v South Africa winners and losers
Fast forward to the first South Africa versus Lions Test in Cape Town, and how apt those words still prove to be in the modern era.
The Lions were undoubtedly the fitter team, able to last the pace, whereas the Springboks tired as the game wore on – understandable given their lack of action at this most intense of levels since winning the World Cup.
When they were fresh in the first half, South Africa were clearly the better side, so it was their match conditioning which told against them in the end.
When you tire you are more prone to losing your discipline and giving away silly penalties in kickable positions – that’s exactly what happened.
From being on the backfoot, the Lions were able to keep hold of the ball more, they had greater energy and capitalised upon those South African mistakes.
The Boks will be better next time around for getting these 80 minutes under their belt, the Lions will need to meet that new challenge head on, but it’s momentum and advantage them as things stand.
They certainly made the most of their superior fitness on Saturday.
The 10 per cent ability bit of that old mantra that was driven into me? Well, that speaks for itself. These are, remember the best of British and Irish rugby.
As for the 10 per cent luck bit, to a large extent you make your own luck in rugby and I feel Warren Gatland partly did that with the Lions’ pre-match questioning of South Africa’s Marius Jonker as the TMO.
Jonker is only human, he had to be seen to be absolutely squeaky clean in his decision-making and my personal view is that it fell in our favour.
South Africa had two tries ruled out – under a team of different match officials at least one of them could have gone the other way, I feel.
Hamish Watson escaped a yellow card for a tip tackle which, Sam Warburton himself said on commentary, wasn’t too dissimilar to the one which saw him red-carded at the 2011 World Cup for Wales.
Watson should have been sent to the sidelines for 10 minutes, which would have been at a pivotal moment of the game.
Again, it was ruled in our favour.
Fortune favoured the Lions, as I say it is key to any hope of winning big rugby matches, but so too is your ability.
Alun Wyn Jones’ excellence as a captain turned the game on its head for me when he chose to go for touch rather than kick for goal. The upshot was a driving maul from which Luke Cowan-Dickie scored his try.
That was a bold call in such a tight game from Alun Wyn, but it paid off.
Where did that drive come from? It hasn’t been a strength of the Lions on this tour, whereas we know it is one of the massive weapons in the Springboks’ armoury.
Yet come the really big game and it was the Lions who had the stronger driving maul.
Maro Itoje was to the fore as part of that and, indeed, throughout; he took his game to another level yet again with his work in the tight, achieving turnovers and putting in tackles.
Courtney Lawes’ defensive work was impressive and his ball carrying in the second half fully justified Gatland’s decision to pick him.
Gatland’s substitutions were also very good, I particularly liked the impact Mako Vunipola made when replacing Rory Sutherland.
Vunipola is a class act as a player and it showed.
However, despite the victory, it doesn’t mean there aren’t issues for the Lions to address and I’d make four changes to the team for the second Test.
The first would be at loosehead where Wyn Jones should come back into the side, with Vunipola again coming off the bench to make the kind impact he did against the tiring ‘Boks on Saturday.
I thought Sutherland struggled, if I’m honest, and I feared a little in the second-half when South Africa brought on what was really their first-choice front row.
Yet their impact was negligible, it was the Lions front-row replacements who had the better of things after the clear struggles we had at the scrum in the first 40 minutes.
Jones and Vunipola are the options I’d stick with moving forward, although I’d leave the rest of the pack as were.
You could argue Watson for Tom Curry, who blotted his copybook with that poorly timed challenge on Faf de Klerk which gave the Springboks three points from a penalty. Then again, Watson should really have been yellow-carded, so leave alone.
If a back-row change is to be made there is an argument for putting Taulupe Faletau on the bench because of the kind of impact he would be able to have in the final 30 minutes. But Watson has to be there and so too, probably, does Tadgh Beirne, so best to leave alone.
I would, however, make three changes in the back division.
I wasn’t convinced by Stuart Hogg at full-back. He may be a great player in certain situations, breaking the line at speed, showing his flair, but this wasn’t really his kind of game.
He also lost turnovers and I’d prefer to see Liam Williams come in.
He’s a more robust player, the kind needed in these type of games when high balls are constantly aimed in your direction. I feel Liam is more secure at dealing with those aerial bombs so I hope he gets the nod.
South Africa won’t change their approach; they’ll launch kick after kick in the second Test and Liam is the man to handle that incessant pressure.
And, as we know, he’s not bad at making the odd dazzling break of his own, either.
I’d make another change in the back three because I feel Duham van der Merwe didn’t really grasp his opportunity and at one point squandered a try-scoring chance.
It was the kind of moment I feel Josh Adams would have snaffled up, he’s shown throughout the tour he has a liking for the try line and I feel his inclusion would also improve our chances of winning again next time out.
The other change would be in the centre where Elliot Daly struggled. It’s a bit harsh calling him out as he’s a full-back really, so you’re not judging him in his proper position.
But it was a tough day at the office for him and one of the reasons he was selected was because of his ability as a goalkicker from halfway. Even that didn’t work, the one attempt he had falling short.
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I’d look at bringing in Bundee Aki instead and pairing him with Rob Henshaw in the midfield.
There is an element of doubt about Dan Biggar after his head injury, but if passed fit I’d stick with him – although Owen Farrell, as he proved when coming on, is a more than capable 10.
To sum up, the Springboks will come stronger with better fitness levels next time, but the Lions are the ones who can make changes from a position of strength to freshen up things themselves.
In that respect it’s win, win for them.
I’ve suggested four alterations there which I feel would improve the team further – Gatland is a more conservative kind of coach so in reality he’ll probably make very few.
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