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How Alun Wyn Jones can channel Willie John McBride to inspire Lions to series win in South Africa

Making comparisons with previous tours is dangerous, says Lions skipper


Knees up: Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones limbers up in training ahead of the second Test against South Africa on Saturday. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Knees up: Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones limbers up in training ahead of the second Test against South Africa on Saturday. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Head coach Warren Gatland. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Head coach Warren Gatland. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan


Knees up: Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones limbers up in training ahead of the second Test against South Africa on Saturday. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

As a British and Irish Lions captain in South Africa, Alun Wyn Jones is following in the footsteps of one of Ulster’s and Ireland’s finest Willie John McBride.

And when asked where the tourists must improve to turn a 1-0 series lead into an unassailable 2-0 advantage, the Welsh great could have paraphrased the Ballymena legend. 

It was McBride, who on the tour of 1974, urged his team-mates to ‘get their retaliation in first’ during what was a hugely contentious slate of games that gave birth to the famed ‘99 call.’

While so far the controversies on this tour have centred more upon social media than between the white lines, McBride’s successor Jones is still stressing the massive importance of striking the first blow this weekend in Cape Town.  

In Saturday’s first Test, the Lions began on the backfoot with the World champions initially looking like they were set to live up to every inch of their billing.

 While there was nothing expansive in a first-half  display that left one of the game’s best wingers a peripheral figure, the ‘Boks were seemingly in control and their 12-3 lead at the break could easily have been greater if not for a key turnover in the closing minutes.  

There were even parallels to be drawn with the first Test 12 years ago when the game-plan was for Tendai Mtawarira to win the penalties and for Ruan Pienaar to knock them over. 

Rather than on that occasion when the hosts scored just after half-time to further assert their dominance, this time around it was the Lions striking first after the turn to seize the momentum.

While the influence exerted by the debilitating effects of so many recent covid cases in the South African ranks during the listless second-half that surrendered their lead, Alun Wyn Jones has warned that the Lions can ill afford to give such a head-start again if they are to be celebrating a little piece of history in Cape Town come Saturday evening. 

"Obviously, early on,” he said when asked for the key areas of improvement.

"We were disappointed with how we performed at scrum-time, we felt we were under pressure. The set-piece came through and there were a couple of communication errors.

"Our management improved drastically in the second-half. We did well to turn that scoreboard around but we need to make sure we don’t give ourselves so much of a deficit in that early part of the game.

“It’s going to be more of the same. The set-piece, you can see by the South African selection, the 6-2 on the bench, that they are probably going to have a bit more emphasis trying to get more set-piece.”

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At least in some places, the narrative around the Lions comeback has been framed around the refereeing decisions that went against their opponents in the second-half.
While Jones hadn’t found a free hour of his day to go through Rassie Erasmus’ latest social media offering, he said that during the game it didn’t feel like his side were gaining any sizeable advantage from the officiating team.

“It’s probably a question for the officials,” he mused with yet another straight-bat.

“In the heat of the moment, it didn’t really feel as if we had any advantage because a lot of the time I was standing there next to Siya (Kolisi) when we were speaking to the refs, etcetera.

"So that’s an outside perception that I probably can’t really comment on.

“I just think the game has changed and I think it does get difficult for players the way the speed of the game is going, the ball in play and I think sometimes the refs have the hardest job in the game in the middle of all that,” said Jones.

“They obviously have assistance and you have a TMO and I think more than ever decisions are being focused on but it’s always been the way.

“I think they’ve always been scrutinized, I just think it’s probably in vogue at the moment and obviously it’s been highlighted by some this past week.”

While Jones’ second-row partner Maro Itoje was using the 2001 series as cause for caution earlier this week – the Saracens star pointing out how the Lions had won first up but still lost the series to the Wallabies – the four-time Lion was loathe to use his own experiences as a lesson, saying there was no real parallel to be drawn from how the 2013 Lions took two attempts to seal victory after a first Test triumph. 

"To be honest, that’s a long time ago now. If I said I could remember (any lessons) I’d be lying. Ultimately, and I’ve said this a few times, I don’t really care for looking too far back.

"I’m not afraid to say what I’ve already said but our focus is this week.  There’s a lot of different bodies, we’re in a different country and we’ve already had one tough Test.

"The focus has to be the next one. I don’t think you can make comparisons, I think that’s a dangerous thing to do.”

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