Why Boks are 'happy' about B&I Lions' selection snub
SPOTLIGHT: World Cup winner Schalk Brits believes the British and Irish Lions have missed a golden opportunity to boost their chances of a Test series triumph over the Springboks by ignoring the inside information England forwards coach Matt Proudfoot could have delivered. Chris Jones reports.
Proudfoot was at the heart of the Springbok success as forwards coach at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan where his pack destroyed England in the final in Yokohama. England head coach Eddie Jones was so impressed he asked Proudfoot to replace Steve Borthwick when the forwards coach took up the director of rugby role at Leicester.
While England’s fifth-place finish in the Six Nations counted against Proudfoot, Brits is adamant that with the Springboks having to rely on many of the players who won the World Cup, the Lions have denied themselves vital inside information by assembling a new-look coaching team under head coach Warren Gatland made up of Gregor Townsend, Steve Tandy, Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins.
Gatland has left the door open to add another specialist to his coaching line-up but that is likely to be New Zealander Scott Robertson rather than Proudfoot for the eight-match tour. Brits, who played against the B&I Lions for the Barbarians in the lead up to the 2017 tour to New Zealand and famously threw a punch at Saracens teammate Owen Farrell in the game, is more than happy that Proudfoot’s inside knowledge will not be utilized against a Springbok side that has not played a Test since the World Cup final.
He told RugbyPass: “It is a missed opportunity for the Lions by not giving him [Proudfoot] an assistant coach role for the tour because of his experience with the Boks. We are happy about that and he is still very highly regarded in South African rugby. It was a big task for Matt to take over the scrums and line-outs with England and most team’s I was involved in had coaches for each of those key areas of the team.”
Brits has concerns about the lack of matches for the Springboks leading into the Lions series but takes some comfort from the fact key members of the World Cup-winning squad are involved in Europe’s top leagues rather than being limited to domestic rugby at home.
“You need a couple of warm-up Test matches to see where you are but now we are going in against one of the top teams in the game who will be hungry to come to South Africa and give the world champions a beating.
“It is not the ideal way of entering into the series but by deciding to keep the tour in South Africa has swung the pendulum in our favour and we have a good record. Most of our key guys are in Europe and the big success of our 2019 World Cup win was the alignment camps that happened well before the tournament and for the first time ever we had lots of time together. Now, we don’t have that time which means there is a bit of the unknown.
“Our European-based players do help us because it is great to have diverse experiences and you need Faf de Klerk playing at Sale Sharks and Handre Pollard with Montpellier while Jesse Kriel is in Japan.”
Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber, his assistants and the rest of the management staff, have just met with a number of leading players in Johannesburg (Lions and Bulls), Durban (Sharks), Cape Town (Stormers) and Bloemfontein (Cheetahs) during a series of camps.
World Cup-winning head coach Rassie Erasmus, now Director of Rugby, Dublin-based assistant coach Felix Jones and Andy Edwards, head of athletic performance, joined the sessions online keenly aware the last time the Boks played was the Rugby World Cup Final against England on November 2, 2019 in Japan. Those squad members who are now playing in Japan met Nienaber and his fellow coaches online on Thursday, and next week is the turn of the players based in England and France.
The Lions are planning to go ahead with the July and August tour despite the coronavirus pandemic, but an original schedule consisting of a June warm-up against Japan in Edinburgh and an eight-match tour culminating with three Tests against the world champions could be revised with the possibility of creating two bubbles – one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg while the touring party are building up to games in those areas.
By Chris Jones, @RugbyPass