x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Depleted Lions fight for pride

The squad is down to its bare bones and Colin Charvis believes a lack of firepower in the back-up ranks could spell a series whitewash.

For all the talk of restoring honour in the jersey, the British & Irish Lions face a near impossible task of trying to prevent a second consecutive series whitewash in Johannesburg on Saturday. They may have played all the rugby in the series so far, as many of their players have claimed. They may have been on the wrong end of wafer-thin margins of defeat but the Lions "brand" may have life in it yet.

However, no matter how close they were, life is likely to be even tougher when their depleted troops are sent out to play a Test against the world champions at altitude for the second week running on Saturday. The squad is down to its bare bones. Gethin Jenkins, the Welsh prop, missed out on a two-day safari trip which the Lions squad are currently undertaking, as he is having his cheek reconstructed after it was shattered on Saturday.

He will be one of many key absentees for the Lions. His Wales teammate, Colin Charvis, believes a lack of firepower among the back-up ranks could mean another 3-0 series loss, following on from the whitewash in New Zealand four years ago. "In the second Test, things went downhill after the injuries," said Charvis, who played two Tests when the Lions lost their 2001 tour of Australia. "They lost the advantage at scrum-time, as well as the bulk of the heavyweights in the midfield and the backs. You need that kind of firepower against a side like the Springboks.

"The South Africans have won the series and I'm sure they will be partying hard after that. But in the back of their minds, they will be thinking they can win the series 3-0 and whitewash the Lions. They still have something important to play for. "Similarly, with the Lions, no one wants to come home from a Test series having lost 3-0. Admittedly, for a lot of the fans, most of the excitement of the series has now gone, but the actual players on the pitch have a lot of pride at stake."

The final Test is likely to kick off with a feeling of bitterness still lingering following Schalk Burger's eye-gouge at the start of the game in Pretoria. Shaun Edwards, the Lions defence coach, wrote in a newspaper column that he will guide his own son away from rugby if the type of fare which was on show in the second Test becomes accepted. Edwards, who had a reputation as a hard-man during a sparkling career in rugby league, as well as his unforgiving coaching methods, wrote: "What is not acceptable is when a player tosses aside the discipline and control without which rugby could become unpalatable.

"I have a young son who already plays rugby. If gouging was in any way tolerated, I'm pretty sure that I would direct him to some other sport." Charvis, a fellow back-rower, reasoned: "Schalk hadn't played for a long time, and it was over-exuberance. There was no damage done, which was a positive from it. "His punishment of 10 minutes in the sin bin gave 10 points to the Lions. There is not a place in rugby for dangerous play, whether it be dangerous tackling, stamping or gouging.

"But no damage was done, which was obviously a good thing, and it was dealt with very quickly by the referee. It didn't go unchecked and didn't lead to any forms of retaliation later in the game." pradley@thenational.ae Gregor Townsend and Andre Snyman, who were playing rivals the last time the Lions won a series in South Africa in 1997, will host a screening of the final Test, at Zinc at the Crowne Plaza, Dubai, on Saturday. For tickets call 04 428 0814.