British and Irish Lions
Edwards embraces altitude 'pain'
June 24, 2009
Shaun Edwards looks forward to the second Test match at altitude in Pretoria © Getty Images
Defence coach Shaun Edwards insists the British & Irish Lions are fully aware of the challenge of playing the Springboks at altitude and believes that his team can overcome those difficulties and still win the series after losing the opening Test in Durban.
The players have been training in special altitude masks in preparation for Saturday's crucial second Test in Pretoria, which stands around 5,000 feet above sea level.
Edwards rates Loftus Versfeld as one of the toughest places in the world to play but the Lions are aware of the difficulties involved after struggling in their opening fixture against the Royal XV in Rustenburg at a similar altitude.
"We have continued to work with the altitude masks on and I know we will be in better shape going back to altitude than when we first went there.
"They set the masks at 7,500 feet - which is obviously higher than we will be playing. When you see the pain on the players' faces when they are cycling with the masks it is obviously hurting them a bit. Loftus Versfeld at the moment is probably the hardest place to play rugby in the world, because of the altitude - and if anyone saw the Super 14 final it would give you reason to think that.
"It all adds to the challenge facing us on Saturday. I am as determined as can be to make sure that last week in Johannesburg is a week of great excitement and great tension building up to what we hope is going to be the deciding Test."
No Lions side has ever come back from defeat in the first Test of the series to win in South Africa but they did win the series when the sides last met in 1997. Much of that victory was based on a superb display by the Lions forward pack who counted the current scrum coach, Graham Rowntree, among their number.
The Springbok pack were clearly in the ascendancy in their 26-21 win last week as the Lions scrum disintegrated while at one stage they were mauled 30 metres upfield in a movement that Rowntree called 'embarrassing' for his players.
"What happened 12 years ago is driving me as a coach to help the players," said Rowntree. "In my area we failed for a crucial point last week, and it drives me on to get that right. We gave ourselves a mountain to climb last week, with the scrum penalties and the driving line-out.
"We have had an honesty session. We have to train as much as we can, and spirits are high," he said.
"The guys are very positive from what we did later in the game - but we have got to fix that set-piece."
The Lions are set to make changes to the front-row, with tight-head prop Adam Jones and hooker Matthew Rees favourites to start after South Africa dominated the scrum for the majority of the match. South Africa have strengthened their forward options for the second Test as flank Schalk Burger returns at openside flank while they've named five forwards on the bench.
"They have plenty of back-up on the bench. We are considering having a six-one split on our bench to counter it." said Rowntree.