British & Irish Lions
Rowntree expecting Boks to front up
June 15, 2009

Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree has played down expectations ahead of the much-anticipated forward battle with South Africa in Saturday's first Test in Durban.

Reports have suggest that the tourists will target the Springboks' supposed front row weakness where captain John Smit will pack down at tighthead having recently converted from his more familiar hooker role. But Rowntree insists the hosts will be far from pushovers in the set-piece.

"These are the world champions in their own back garden. They are not going to let us push them around," said the former Leicester and England prop.

Lions loosehead prop Andrew Sheridan has been singled out as a key weapon in the three-Test series with South Africa but he and the rest of the squad must wait to hear from head coach Ian McGeechan who will not decide on his line-up until Tuesday night. And Rowntree has urged restraint when it comes to Sheridan's potential to cause havoc in the Springboks' front row.

"I am speaking from my experience with England," said Rowntree. "I remember the autumn series last year where (Australian prop) Al Baxter was supposed to be quaking in his boots, and we didn't do a job on them.

"Every time that pressure is put on us, I would say we haven't always delivered. So I am not going to fall into this trap again of what Andrew Sheridan, or whoever our loosehead is, is supposedly going to do to John Smit.

"Smit has been around the Test circuit a long time. I don't see it as this supposed area of weakness that everyone else does. There have been times over the last few years where England are supposed to have decimated and destroyed opposition packs, and we just haven't delivered. I just feel that trap is waiting for us if we are not careful.

"This is not pointing the finger at him (Sheridan) not delivering. As a pack, I think back to the autumn when we were supposed to knock Australia about, and they turned us over twice. I found watching those two scrums embarrassing.

"I am sure Andrew would agree - we just didn't deliver - and it's not all down to him. It's always a collective thing, but it always seems to be that unless Andrew completely obliterates someone, he is deemed to have failed."

Rowntree also admits "difficult decisions" will be faced in selecting all three rows of the scrum.

"We've got some good selection headaches," he added. "We haven't picked anything yet, and those guys who take the field on Tuesday have got a huge opportunity. There is a big carrot there for many players. "I think there will be a few guys who play on Tuesday who will play on Saturday as well. That's just the way it is."

The Lions could have a clean bill of health heading into the Test. Only fullback Rob Kearney is currently unavailable for the game against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth tomorrow.

Kearney suffered a dead leg during the 26-23 victory over Western Province on Saturday but he is expected to regain full fitness in the next few days.

Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair, meanwhile, faces a late test on his ankle to determine whether or not he will be fit.

Lions doctor Gary O'Driscoll also played down any concerns surrounding Blair's fellow scrum-halves Harry Ellis and Mike Phillips. England international Ellis has a mild chest infection, while Test No.9 favourite Phillips has been suffering from bruising and stiffness in his lower back.


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