The British & Irish Lions will need absolute clarity in everything they do if they are to beat the Springboks and win a Test series in South Africa, forwards coach Robin McBryde has warned.
Preparations have begun for the upcoming tour and a home Test against Japan at Murrayfield in nine days with 26 of the 37-man squad training under head coach Warren Gatland in Jersey. They will be joined by the rest of the tour party on the conclusion of their club duties in play-off games in England and France.
McBryde, the former Wales and current Leinster forwards coach, has been impressed by the hard work already done in Jersey but believes the Lions will have to have their individual and collective roles completely nailed down going into the first Test against the 2019 World Cup winners. The Springboks have not played since their World Cup final win over England, having beaten McBryde’s Wales in the semi-final in Japan and though the side now coached by former Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber will have two warm-up Tests against Georgia, McBryde said: “That was near enough the last time they played, really. So we have been looking back at their match against Japan, their match against us (Wales) and the one against England, the World Cup final. They are a very hard, a very physical team to break down.
“As a pack of forwards, it is going to be a big challenge at set-piece time, we saw how effective they were, how big an impact their scrum had in the World Cup final, they pretty much block off the middle and the tail of the line-out from an attacking point of view, in terms of getting quality ball in there.
“Defensively they are very strong, very organised. In attack their maul had a big part in winning that last penalty against Wales in that semi-final. The challenge is clear to see for everybody in terms of the strength of their bench, the 6/2 split.
“They have the Bomb Squad coming on, the front row (replacements). That shows their strength in depth. The challenge is there, it is plain to see. It will be a physical one. We need to be 100 per cent clear on what we are working on.” McBryde believes the ground work laid down in Jersey ahead of the Japan Test on June 26 and the first tour game against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg a week later will be crucial to achieving that clarity.
“The work we do here in Jersey, the principles we put in place, has to be pretty much nailed on before the time we leave here because there is no time when we get there when you consider our schedule. It will be a pretty packed schedule.”
The forwards coach believes it will be a learning experience for all the players, especially newcomers such as Jack Conan, the Leinster and Ireland No.8 whom he has been working with since joining the Irish province after the 2019 World Cup.
“He is very effective as a ball carrier. He has got ability in the lineout. He has grown in that area and he can grow further. It is a competitive area, that back row, isn’t it?
“I think he will learn from the best players in his own position. He will grow. So, from Jack’s point of view, this will accelerate his development because once he learns from other players, from other coaches, from being in this training environment, he will get better.
“Everybody has to do their stuff, in training, in matches. Any player here currently is going to learn and benefit from the experience.”
So too Leinster and Ireland hooker Ronan Kelleher, called into the Jersey camp despite not being named in Gatland’s squad to tour South Africa next month. With Jamie George still at Saracens, where the fallen English giants are involved in Championship promotion play-offs, and Luke Cowan-Dickie required by Exeter Chiefs in their Premiership title play-offs, the Lions have just one of their three hookers in Wales’ Ken Owens available this week and Kelleher was called up to provide a second hooker for training.
“He will grow, undoubtedly. There were some close calls (in selection) and Ronan’s was one of those close ones. The conversation I had with Warren with regards to him, we knew we were going to have only one hooker in this training week with Jamie and Luke involved with their clubs so as opposed to getting somebody else as a stand-in, it would have been wasted on someone who is not on our standby list.
“So, it gives Ronan an opportunity to make an impression on the other coaches. I am familiar with working with Ronan from a Leinster point of view. So I had no doubts he would come here and set a marker for himself. This is a great opportunity for Ronan. We have 14 forwards but at least we can do a few scrum sessions against one another.
“It is great from a team, squad, a pack perspective to have that ability to do all that hard work and then from Ronan’s point of view, it is great for him as well to have that experience of working with the best of the best. It will help him grow as an individual. It works both ways. You never know, he could join us late on as well.”