British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa
Guscott predicts repeat success for Lions
March 23, 2009
Guscott celebrates with coach Ian McGeechan after the Lions clinched a series-winning victory over South Africa at Kings Park in 1997 © Getty Images
Guscott, whose drop goal clinched a series victory over the Springboks 12 years ago, believes this year's Six Nations provided enough positives to suggest the elite tourists can conjure a repeat win later this year.
"Whilst the quality of rugby as a whole has not been amazing, there have been close matches and players have come to the fore," he told Scrum.com. "Most of them will be from Wales and Ireland but I think even if you had a combination of the Irish and the Welsh pack you would say that there is an eight amongst them, with a smattering of English and Scots, that will be as big and as physical as South Africa."
Guscott, who collected 8 Lions Test caps on tours to Australia (1989), New Zealand (1993) and South Africa (1997), has also backed McGeechan's side to win what is guaranteed to be a ferocious battle up front.
"I don't think South Africa have the physicality in the front row to compete with ours," said Guscott, whose Lions scrapbook also includes a superb individual try against the Wallabies. "They have it in the back five, no doubt, that back five would make up a large part of any World XV, but we have got the players to compete there, I'm sure of that."
The 43-year-old former 'Prince of Centres', who scored 30 tries in 65 appearance for England, also singled out Ireland No.8 Jamie Heaslip as a potential tour star. "I think he has been the stand out candidate for me," he said of the 25-year-old who lit up this year's Six Nations with some eye-catching displays. "He has come from nowhere, no matter what anyone says, and he's really made a name for himself and scored some great tries.
"He's athletic and he's the template for a modern day backrow forward - he's big, physical, quick, strong - has all the attributes and he's made a big mark in this Championship and has pretty much for me booked his seat."
Such is the importance of the forward battle with the world champions that Guscott insists that the captain must come from the engine room of the side.
"I think on a Lions tour it is pretty important to have your captain in the forwards," he said. "They're the guys that win it, they're the guys involved so much, whether attacking or defending and the captain from that position can lead by example. You've got leaders all over a Lions team, it's just by the very nature of it as it is the best that the Six Nations can provide, so there is likely to be a lot of captains and a lot of leaders in the squad."
Guscott accepted Ireland lock Paul O'Connell and Wales backrow Ryan Jones were leading candidates but insisted the captain must be assured of his place in the side. "Do I believe O'Connell deserves his place in the Test team? And that for me defines who is captain and I don't think in previous tours, certainly those that I've been on, that has been questioned.
"Maybe Finlay Calder in 1989, would he have got in your team ahead of Andy Robinson? Debateable. Hastings in '93? Yes, he was a first choice. In '97? Johnson was without a doubt and in 2001, and in 2005 there was O'Driscoll - all those guys got in the team on merit.
"My bolter would be someone like David Wallace but is he ahead of Martyn Williams?There's a lot of competition and it is good competition but I think they will go with O'Connell."
Guscott also believes the Lions will benefit from what he says will be a predictable approach from South Africa."They won't change the way they play," he said, "they've played it that way for years and I don't think they will move away from the physical confrontation that they love. They're egos don't allow them to. They'd much rather run through them than around them, it's in their very nature, so that's what we've got to match.
"Then we've got to out-think them, it's very simple. Our game is a very simple one made difficult by individuals sometimes and referees. But I don't see it going any differently than it did in 1997. You get some physical guys in there who love it and then someone to knock over the penalties."
And a prediction? "2-1 to the Lions. But if we don't win the first one then we'll lose."
Jeremy Guscott was speaking at an HSBC Lions Legends event in Manchester. HSBC is the principal partner of the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.