The playing field ’completely level’ for Springboks, British Lions series
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DURBAN - The winner of Saturday’s first Test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions will go on to win the three-match series, while the tourists are better prepared than a Bok team that has been beset with Covid-19 disruptions.
That is the considered view of former England centre Brad Barritt, who is well placed to judge because he has an intimate knowledge of the psyche of both camps.
Barritt was born and raised in Durban, represented the Junior Springboks, the Emerging Boks and the Sharks (65 caps) before switching to the northern hemisphere when he played 26 times for England and toured with the B&I Lions in 2013.
“Winning the first Test is huge. Fundamentally, I think whoever wins the first Test will win the series,” said Barritt, who recently retired and now lives in Cape Town. “The momentum, the confidence, all the positive things that come from a win would be telling while the losing team will have their backs against the wall and asking questions.”
Barritt says this is reinforced by the decision to play all three Tests at the same venue, the Cape Town Stadium, after the tour organisers elected to move the Tests scheduled in Covid hotspot Johannesburg for the safer Cape.
“It is very significant that the series will play out at the same stadium,” Barritt said. “That means no redirection of focus from Test to Test. There is no change in situation that could favour one team or the other. The playing fields have been completely leveled from a home ground perspective.
“It helps the Lions in that they have already played at that stadium twice (against SA A and the Stormers) so in many ways they have already started to cultivate a home feel. They have been in that change room a few times, they already know the stadium and familiarity gives you confidence.”
The million-dollar question ahead of the big kick-off is which team is in the better position — the Boks who have their World Cup-winning team mostly intact but have played virtually no Test rugby since 2019 or a Lions team which is a new collective but whose individuals have played plenty of Tests while the Boks were locked down.
“The Lions are much better prepared in my opinion in that they have had highly competitive rugby the whole year,” says Barritt. “They had the Autumn Cup, the Premiership and European competitions, the Six Nations and now in South Africa they have had five games on the trot.
“Some of the Boks have had some European rugby but their locals have had a year of playing each other in what is really one long Currie Cup, so beyond any shadow of doubt the Lions players have had much more competitive rugby,” the 34-year-old says.
“But this is according to the age-old theory that you have to have form and game time to play at the highest level and we know that the Boks are determined to put that theory to the toughest of tests,” Barritt added.
“The SA A game showed us that the Boks fired up on their home turf are good enough to beat anybody. It makes for a fascinating tale but I feel the Lions are better settled, have good combinations and will be confident.”
A clichéd view of this match is that it boils down to the power game of the Boks versus the pace and skill of the Lions but Barritt says this is simplistic.
“I think the Boks get unfairly labeled,” he says. “If you look at the Bok backline, all of the players are great attackers in their own right. Cheslin Kolbe is the outstanding attacking player in world rugby and he is playing for South Africa, not the Lions.
“The Boks do the simple things very well and it requires the other team to pull a rabbit out of the hat to beat them,” Barritt explains. “The Lions learned a lot from the SA A game in terms of the platform they require if they are to play the brand of rugby they want. That loss has set them up well for the Test series because they know what physical level they need to have parity, and what is required for a Test win.”
* Brad Barritt was speaking on behalf of Land Rover, official sponsor of the British & Irish Lions and of the Springboks.
Find out more about the Land Rover Hope Garden Legacy project for The Lions Tour.