A Mauger Lions success?

He may have been one of the architects of their downfall the last time the Lions left these shores, but former All Black centre Aaron Mauger believes the best of the four Home Unions have more than enough talent to secure a change in fortunes later this summer. [more]

A Mauger Lions success?

He may have been one of the architects of their downfall the last time the Lions left these shores, but former All Black centre Aaron Mauger believes the best of the four Home Unions have more than enough talent to secure a change in fortunes later this summer.

Despite being part of a New Zealand side that romped to a thoroughly convincing whitewash of the Lions four years ago, Mauger feels the Lions can make amends in South Africa, if Ian McGeechan gets his selection spot on.

"There’s a good mix of talent across the four Home Nations," said Mauger, who started the first and second Tests against the Lions last time out.

"There’s so many players to pick from for the Lions, it’s about getting the right players to go there and compete. It’s mixing experience with youthful exuberance.

"There’s a lot of young guys coming on the scene now, particularly in Wales and Ireland, and if you mix that with old heads from England and Scotland, they could get the right mix there.

"But it’s a big job selection wise. If they get that right, they’ll be in with a shout."

As well as believing that picking the right players will be key to the Lions’ chances in May, June and July, Mauger is also of the opinion that positive leadership, both on and off the field, will be essential if the Lions are to repeat the series success they experienced in1997.

The 28-year-old is currently acting as captain at Guinness Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers and, although his modesty will prevent him from admitting so himself, Mauger knows all about leading by example.

"I think leadership will be very important for the Lions. Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll are two guys who look like they’re in the running for the captain’s job.

"Obviously O’Connell’s done a great job with Munster and O’Driscoll’s done the job before with the Lions.

"I think it will be huge for the Lions if those two are playing well and leading the team well. That will go a long way to showing the younger guys in the rest of the team what it’s all about."

Aaron Mauger (left) tormented the Lions in New Zealand four years ago

Whoever head coach McGeechan does select to lead the Lions, Mauger admits that one thing is certain; the whole squad will have to be at their best if the Lions are to come away with a series triumph.

Having won 45 caps for the All Blacks and played Super rugby for seven years, Mauger knows all about what it takes to win in South Africa.

"South Africa is always a tough place to play. They always play well at home. They’re very hard to beat there. They seem to play with a bit more pace and urgency and they seem 50 per cent stronger physically when they’re at home.

"Sometimes I think it’s hard for them and they lose their focus on tour in New Zealand and Australia because they’re away for such a long time. But when they’re at home it’s like they’re on some sort of special juice. They just come out firing and it’s always a really hard, physical game.

"They’re a very good side. They proved that when they came over here late last year so I think it’s going to be a tough tour for the Lions."

Mauger knows how good it feels to come out on top against South Africa

Mauger has previously come face-to-face with the majority of players in line for a Springbok shirt this year and he is fully aware of the dangers with which the Lions will be presented.

The ex-Canterbury Crusader has praised the South African physicality but he also believes that the reigning world champions have pace and power all over the park.

"I think there’s a lot of quality guys over there in South Africa. Pierre Spies and Ryan Kankowski are awesome No8s. They’re really good athletes and I think they’ll cause a bit of trouble, especially if they’re roaming out wide.

"Then there are guys like Francois Steyn, young guys coming on and playing some really good rugby at the moment.

"The Lions will know a bit about Butch James because he’s playing over here but, if he’s involved, I think he’ll be quite influential as well.

"You’ve got Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha and other guys up front who are awesome, awesome players. They’re physical and can be quite intimidating if you let them but, if you get stuck into them early, you can counter that as well.

"I really rate Jean de Viilers. I think he’s a really good player. Out of him, Adi Jacobs and Jacques Fourie, I think he’s probably the more complete footballer. He’s probably one of the better midfielders in the world. He’s one of those guys who consistently performs and he’ll be a big threat for them.

"Fourie’s also always performed well for South Africa. He’s quick and he’s a strong guy so they’ve got some pretty good options there in the centre."

Mauger started both the first and second Tests against the Lions in 2005

Although the Lions are set to face a Springbok side packed with international experience, mental toughness, blistering speed and an ever-growing confidence, Mauger feels the Lions must concentrate on their own game rather than worry too much about what is directly in front of them.

"If you try too hard to nullify what the opposition is doing, you forget about yourselves sometimes," explained Mauger.

"It’s probably been one of the greatest strengths of teams I’ve played in back in New Zealand, that we just focus more on ourselves, playing to the right spaces and our own strengths. It’s about being confident that, if you play well, then you’ll probably win the game."

If the Lions do follow Mauger’s advice and manage to produce the kind of single-minded rugby so closely associated with the All Blacks and Crusaders of recent years, then supporters the width and breadth of Britain and Ireland could finally put the disappointing memories of 2005 well and truly to bed.

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