SOUTH AFRICA captain John Smit claimed Ian McGeechan is “trying to replicate the vibe and momentum... of 1997” with his squad selection for the 2009 British and Irish Lions.
McGeechan named his 37-man touring party for the ten-match, three-Test series against the Springboks on Wednesday, with Ireland’s Paul O’Connell handed the captaincy amid a physically strong set of forwards.
The Munster second row, who pipped countryman Brian O’Driscoll to the accolade, is a similar choice to McGeechan’s last Lions tour captain — when imposing England lock forward Martin Johnson was picked to lead the 1997 side.
On that tour — the last time the Lions visited South Africa — the Springboks were outmuscled by a physically strong touring party with a solid collective spirit, losing the Test series 2-1 on their own soil.
However, Smit says that while he is determined his current side — who, as they were in 1997, are the reigning world champions — will avoid a similar fate, he expects a tough challenge from Paul O’Connell’s men.
“We always expected them to pick strong and aggressive forwards, which indicates that they see the scrum and lineout as key elements of the contest,” the prop explained.
“There is depth in every position, which is what they will need on a long and tough tour. We expect that there will be strong competition for places in all positions, which will make things interesting for us.”
He continued: “The captain, Paul O’Connell is a team man who is well respected and it is obvious they are trying to replicate the vibe that they had with the same coach in 1997.
“Overall, it is a very strong team and one that will certainly provide a big challenge for us which we are really looking forward to.”
Former South Africa coach Carel du Plessis says the series could end up being decided by the backs.
“Quality possession from scrum and line-out will go both ways, both teams have good players there,” he said.
“The way you put together attacking play will determine the final outcome. I think the Boks have the edge.”
Du Plessis, who coached South Africa against the Lions in 1997, said the outcome of the series may be decided in more subtle ways, and how quickly the tourists knitted together as a group.
“If you look at Welsh and Irish components in the squad, there are a lot of combinations of players who know one another,” he added on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The real hard work will be to find combinations in the backs for the Lions — I think there will be formidable combinations up front.
“At the moment the Boks are blessed with good reserve strength and player depth in certain positions. Because of their reserve strength and settled combinations, the core of their team has been together for two or three seasons — that will definitely be in their favour.”
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