British & Irish Lions
Vickery grateful for reality check
May 31, 2009
Lions prop Phil Vickery relaxes with a round of golf in Johannesburg © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions prop Phil Vickery insists the tourists should be grateful for the wake-up call given to them by an unheralded Royal XV.
The Lions recorded an unconvincing 37-25 victory in their tour opener against the invitational side having trailed 25-13 as they game entered the closing stages.
Tries from Rayno Barnes, Bees Roux and Willhelm Koch had put the hosts in control before the Lions conjured a late turnround with Lee Byrne, Alun-Wyn Jones and Ronan O'Gara crossing to add to an earlier touchdown from Tommy Bowe.
Vickery entered the fray just past the hour mark amongst a raft of changes that reinforced the Lions' late surge.
"We are disappointed with the performance," said former England captain Vickery. "But we could have easily lost that game. The guys showed a lot of guts and courage to stick in there.
"I think it is a good kick up the backside, which you need. The reality of what faces us on this tour is staring at us. The most important thing about the last two weeks is the guys have got together, we've met each other and it is a great group of people and coaches.
"Ultimately, that side of it is all finished now. It's about rugby, and that is why we are here."
Next up for the Lions are their Super 14 namesake at Ellis Park on Wednesday night with head coach Ian McGeechan set to reveal his line-up on Monday. A significant improvement will be required for what will be a much sterner test of their credentials against a side that finished 12th in this year's competition.
"It was a very disjointed affair," conceded Lions assistant coach Rob Howley, who also rightly cited the high temperature, altitude and several players having not played for a month as contributing factors to the Lions' lacklustre showing.
"When you think of the opening game in 2001 (the Lions beat Western Australia 110-16), we will be much better having been put through the mill like yesterday than playing a side we could have beaten quite comfortably. The number of turnovers we conceded was disappointing. The ball in play time yesterday was only 32 minutes, so we didn't stretch the opposition as much as we wanted to.
"Some of the players were very despondent, but I remember on the 1997 Lions tour after losing to Northern Transvaal, the next performance against Gauteng lifted the tour to another level. I am sure everyone remembers John Bentley's try in that game, and will be looking for that x-factor on Wednesday."
Lions captain Paul O'Connell, meanwhile, admitted the tourists' performance had been scarred by errors. "We were sluggish in the first-half - the errors were the big thing," said O'Connell. "They took away our momentum and any chance we had of developing our game. It gave the opposition massive belief, and they got stronger and stronger.
"When we made those mistakes, it just kept setting us back. Maybe the altitude is all part of it, and a lot of the guys also hadn't played many games in the last four or five weeks. Everyone was very eager. We had a very good week's training, and the enthusiasm for this game was there. Maybe that enthusiasm got a little bit of the better of us."