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AWJ’s Lions ready to make their own history

Alun Wyn Jones in Lions action.

AWJ’s Lions ready to make their own history

Can Alun Wyn Jones’ British & Irish Lions do it again and clinch the series with a game to play against the Springboks in Cape Town?

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After the much publicised side-show to the main event surrounding the claims by the South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus regarding the refereeing of Aussie official Nic Berry last weekend, the whistle for the kick-off from Kiwi referee Ben O’Keefe can’t come soon enough.

Former Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde summed up the feelings in the Lions camp, where he is part of Warren Gatland’s coaching team, perfectly by saying that “traditionally rugby has been able to pride itself on rising above that”.

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“Hopefully, it will be a good spectacle and we can forget about what’s happened this week,” he added.

On offer for Gatland’s team in the second Test is the chance to emulate Martin Johnson’s team of 1997 in winning the three-Test series with a game in hand after their 22-17 victory in the opening game.

Having drawn the 2017 series in New Zealand 1-1, and beaten the Australians 2-1 in 2013, the Lions are on the cusp of their best run since winning back-to-back series in 1971 and 1974. The best sequence remains the hat-trick of wins they achieved in their first three series in 1891 and 1896 in South Africa and 1899 in Australia.

For the skipper, Alun Wyn Jones, it will be an incredible 11th successive Test appearance for the Lions, making him the first player since the Pontypool prop Graham Price to do that. Price played in all four Tests on the tours to New Zealand in 1977 and 1983 and South Africa in 1980.

Mike Gibson also managed 12 in a row – four in New Zealand in 1966 followed by four in South Africa in 1968 and a further four against the All Blacks in 1971 – while the record is held by Willie John McBryde with 15 from 1966 to 1974.

Leading his side to a series win in South Africa would rank Jones alongside Johnson (1997), McBride (1974), Johnny Hammond (1896) and Bill McLagan (1891) as the only captains to beat the Springboks on their home patch in 14 attempts.

“A lot has been said about how South Africa are going to improve on the loss in the first Test. We are expecting the intensity to go up a notch across the board,” said Jones.

“We’ve looked at the first half last weekend and seen how we put ourselves under pressure and where we can improve our game. Not just from that first half, but for the full 80.

“We feel we’ve got a few gears to go up and that’s been a large part of our focus this week. We didn’t execute as well as we’d have liked in the first half last week and we were disappointed with the way we started at scrum time.

“I felt we were under pressure, but our set-piece came through and our management improved drastically in the second half. We did well to turn the scoreboard around and we just want to make sure that we don’t give ourselves too much of a deficit in that early part of the game.

“It’s going to be more of the same in the second Test. They’ve got a six-two split on the bench, which is more of what they’re used to in the way they select their squad, and I’m sure there will be an increased emphasis on the set-piece from them.

“On our part, a lot will depend on out execution and game management early on in the game. We’ve got elements of game management around the set-piece and a couple of ‘comms’ areas that we need to sort out early on in the game.”

Dan Biggar will start again at No 10 and Ken Owens and the recalled Taulupe Faletau will be ready to come off the bench to beef up the forward effort later in the game. History beckons for the Lions, Jones and the expectant army of Lions fans.

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