Accusations of my Springboks arrogance are misplaced. I am simply calling it like it is. The British & Irish Lions touring squad is not good enough to beat a settled world champion Springboks in South Africa, writes Mark Keohane
To everyone questioning the Springboks lack of strength or quality, go back and watch the World Cup final. I know Eddie Jones and the England team have never done it. Perhaps if they did, they would not have finished fifth in the Six Nations this year.
There has never been a review of England’s 32-12 humiliation against the Springboks.
There has also not been enough of an acknowledgement of the quality of the Springboks World Cup play-off matches and how they built to the most comprehensive of victories.
I keep on hearing that the Springboks haven’t played a Test match since the 2019 World Cup final and that they will be underdone. I’d buy into that view if there had been mass retirements or overseas exodus from players and that a rebuild post the 2019 World Cup was necessary under a coach new to the Springboks environment.
There is no rebuild, there is only subtle change and there have been minimal player retirements.
To those who keep on talking about lack of matches, the overseas based Springboks squad members have been playing as much, if not more, than the squad of players Lions coach Warren Gatland will bring to South Africa to play eight matches in six weeks. The local based players have competed in three different competitions in the past six months.
The Springboks, under Word Cup winning coach Rassie Erasmus and promoted national coach Jacques Nienaber, won’t tinker with a winning formula. The core group of Springbok are available and the core group are also in-form, for their overseas clubs and also in various domestic competitions being played in South Africa over the past six months.
Gatland and his Lions have everything to do to upstage the world champions. I don’t believe the players, as a collective, will be good enough. I am saying it now and not waiting till the series is over, when everyone is always so clever and, in hindsight, always speak with such authority and insight.
Make a call now.
I’ve made mine. No ifs and buts.
The indifferent form of Eddie Jones’s England team is the biggest worry for Gatland. A week before the World Cup final, you’d have confidently predicted the Lions Test starting XV would be built around the England side.
That was until the Springboks beat them up physically, clobbered them and embarrassed them with a 20-point differential.
This was the same England team that the previous weekend had battered the defending champion All Blacks and the week before that had crushed the Wallabies.
I don’t buy into the hype about any Welsh revival. Wales won three of their Six Nations matches when playing 15 on 14 for most of the second half in those matches. If you don’t win a Test match with a one player advantage, then you’ve got massive issues.
Scotland were typically Scotland. Brave when written off and bad when expected to be good.
Ireland have been inconsistent since Andy Farrell took over from Joe Schmidt.
Gatland isn’t bringing a group of players together that are on a confidence high. There are some big name players in his squad who are not playing well and who haven’t made emphatic statements in the past year. There are some wonderful players staying at home who have been omitted.
Gatland has risked in naming veteran Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones as his captain. Jones was insistent that being tour captain was no guarantee to him starting the first Test on 24th July in Cape Town. He has said he would have to earn the right to be the run on XV.
Where is the northern-based confidence coming from?
Wales being Six Nations champions or Scotland winning a Test against France in Paris? It can’t be coming from England or Ireland’s performances.
What makes it a given that Gatland will get this mix and match of the four home unions to gel before the Test series starts, especially when the players won’t be able to rely on the emotional charge of having the support of the 40 000 Red Army in the stands?
Don’t underestimate what a massive lift the Red Army gives the Lions. We saw that in 2009 in South Africa, in 2013 in Australia and also in 2017 in New Zealand.
Why is it a crime to emphatically back the world champion Springboks? Why is it arrogance to call a three-nil?
Why must there be platitudes of a player being a loyal servant of the game, admired in his home town and simply a great bloke? I am talking about players in the now. Many of those players who Gatland has chosen won’t be up to the challenge.
Some are past their best, including the captain.
For those who believe the Lions will win the series, what are they basing it on? It can’t be on any form or performance because this squad of 37 has never been in a room together.
What makes the voices from the north tout the Lions as favourites? Arrogance or ignorance? One or the other? Neither?
I am bullish about the world champions winning the series three-nil because they are good enough to shut out the Lions on three successive Saturdays.
They have proven pedigree and the current Springboks have put in the necessary performance on the greatest rugby stage to support this pedigree.
The Lions, right now, have nothing but hope that 37 players from four different countries will find uniformity.