|McGeechan's squad looks one-dimensional
||[Apr. 21st, 2009|02:44 pm]
Ian McGeechan’s squad suggests one thing: the Lions are going to fight fire with fire in South Africa.
He promised he would pick on form and he has done just that, apart from the omission of the outstanding Tom Croft.
But in comparison to the party he took 12 years ago to South Africa, there seems less variation in the style of player he has taken.
In 1997 the canny Scot went down the route of negating the Springboks’ power by picking smaller props in his Test team that could get underneath their gargantuan opponents and scrummage at all sorts of angles to dilute the brute strength of the home side.
He picked a full back who had never played a test in that position in Neil Jenkins, because he was the world’s best goal kicker, and he added some professional rugby league nous to his side in the form of Alan Bateman, Alan Tait and John Bentley, who had all crossed back over the divide from the 13-man game once union went professional.
It was calculated, it was full of ‘unkowns’ as far as the ‘Boks were concerned and it worked. The Lions ambushed the world champions and stole the series.
This year, it looks like it will be bulk v bulk. Yes, there are the showponies such as Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams, but there is also a grand total of 13 front five forwards, and a collection of back row players who have shown themselves able to run through brick walls and tackle themselves to a stupor.
McGeechan knows the South African back row will charge hard and fast all day long, and the likes of Andy Powell, Jamie Heaslip, Joe Worsley and Stephen Ferris have been picked to stop them in their tracks.
His second row picks are also swathed in muscle. Paul O’Connell, Simon Shaw and Nathan Hines are hard as nails and will have no truck with any rough stuff that will come their way.
The problem is that this squad looks like it has been picked to stop the Boks winning, rather than trying to beat them. Martyn Williams is the only truly creative player in the back row, Brian O’Driscoll and Riki Flutey the only centres you wouldn’t classify as bosh merchants and no there is no scrum-half blessed searing pace or an eagle eye for a gap such as Dwayne peel or Danny Care.
The Six Nations this year was not a classic, with more players playing themselves out of contention than putting their hands up.
Ryan Jones got stuck in reverse gear and went from captaincy favourite to tour outsider, Steve Borthwick made less yardage than a ramshackle dustcart and Mike Blair played like anything but a contender for the previous year’s world player of the year award.
None of them made the cut in a squad only eight players shy of Clive Woodward’s much pilloried 45-man party.
McGeechan has pinned his colours to the mast much earlier than he did in 1997. He is sending a side out to stand toe to toe with the most physical side on the planet.
Lose that battle, and there could be no Plan B to fall back on.