Up and limping
Phil Edwards reports back from the Lions camp after the Royal XV gave them a harsh reality check.
Last Updated: 01/06/09 11:38am
The Lions are now back in Johannesburg following their reality check in the baking hot Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday in Rustenburg.
The combination of altitude, and temperatures in the upper 80's, proved to be quite a challenge. So too of course did the Royal XV, who relished their once-in-a-career opportunity to play against such esteemed opposition, and hats off to them.
I was standing on the side of the pitch when the Lions trooped off after the final whistle, and the effects of the heat were all too apparent. Ronan O'Gara looked as though he'd just spend three hours in a sauna while wearing four overcoats. The Lions physio' Phil Pask, who knows what he's talking about, gave the conditions a 9/10 score for unpleasantness.
Knowing your rugby, I'm sure you'll agree that Lee Byrne stood out in what was, quite frankly, a worrying and error-strewn display. His immediate riposte following the Royals' third try saved the day. It meant that the opposition didn't get the breathing space they craved to try to close out the match, while it gave the Lions the impetus to go on and secure a victory that had seemed beyond them. That, for me, was the key moment of the game. Rest assured that the magnitude of the task out here has been drawn in to sharp focus.
Anyhow, the guys are delighted to be back in their five-star accommodation following a brief stay in a rather interesting lodge on the outskirts of Rustenburg. I was chatting to a few of the backroom staff last night and they made the place sound like the Bates Motel in the film Psycho, only without the positive customer feed-back. A return to more luxurious conditions ought to speed up the recovery process for the walking wounded, of which there are quite a few.
James Robson, the team doctor, read out a long list of ailments at the Sunday morning press conference. Keith Earls, who was accidentally crushed by a prop forward early in Saturday's match (not to be recommended) has a very sore shoulder as a result. This puts his rather disappointing performance into some perspective. Attack Coach Rob Howley reckons the Munster centre will bounce back and be a better player for his experience. I'm sure he's right.
Elsewhere, Paul O'Connell has a small but painful corneal abrasion (a scratched eye-ball to you and me) but there's no suggestion that it was caused by foul play. Martyn Williams has a humdinger of a black eye, while quite a few of the others have minor problems such as blistered feet and so forth. But the player currently way out in front in the race for 'the most bizarre injury on tour award' is Stephen Ferris. He strained a calf muscle stepping off the team bus and can expect a substantial fine at the first court session as a result.
There was good news concerning both Leigh Halfpenny and Andy Powell; Leigh is almost back to full fitness and has been kicking impressively back home in Wales. We expect to see him out here shortly. Andy's hand is also fully on the mend. We asked how he pranged it in the first place, and it turns out it was nothing to do with an insect bite as first reported, but resulted from accidental contact with someone's head in a training session. All I can say is that the owner of the head must be made of something akin to granite.
As I write these words, I'm watching a number of the guys enjoying a round of golf at a stunning course about half-an-hour's drive from their hotel. I know that back home it's commonplace for hooters to sound a warning to players in the event of approaching lightening, but a local press photographer has just told me that over here, there are golf courses that use klaxons to let people know when one of the so-called big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard) are about to invade the fairways. Needless to say this can put even the best of players off their stroke. It's then that you get in your buggy and floor the accelerator. That's if you want to avoid the cut!
In golfing parlance, you could say that the Lions recovered well from the rough in their match against the Royal XV on Saturday, but will need to improve their game substantially before playing the Golden Lions at Ellis Park. This Super 14 side might have had a dismal season, and seen their coach sacked as a result, but everyone's expecting them to be well up for the match on Wednesday.
Talking about good recoveries, someone in the bar last night reminded us of one of Jason Leonard's golden nuggets from a few years ago. Some brave individual apparently had a dig at the team he was playing for, after which he promised that they would "rise once again like a pheasant from the ashes". When it was pointed out that he should have said "phoenix from the ashes", Jase replied: "I knew it was some or other posh bird beginning with an eff".