Gold standard for Lions and Boks

South Africa assistant coach Gary Gold may be a Springbok through and through but his knowledge of the British and Irish game means he is expecting a tough tour when the Lions come calling later this summer. [more]

Gold standard for Lions and Boks

South Africa assistant coach Gary Gold may be a Springbok through and through but his knowledge of the British and Irish game means he is expecting a tough tour when the Lions come calling later this summer.

Having spent four years in England with London Irish, Gold knows exactly how much the traditions of the Lions mean to every rugby player, coach and supporter across the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland.

"When I am asked about the threat the Lions bring, I always say that if you are selecting the best players from four top nations then you will end up with a very, very, good rugby squad," Gold told the Lions’ Principal Partner, HSBC.

"Add to that the prestige that goes with playing for the Lions and the fact that South Africa is the last place that they won, and you have a cracker of a rugby tour.

"I was in England for the last two British & Irish Lions tours and saw how much appetite there was amongst the UK and Ireland fans. 40,000 fans travelling half way around the world to watch a team who only play every four years is very special."

After becoming an assistant coach at Irish in 2001, Gold helped the Exiles claim their first national trophy in more than a century courtesy of a Powergen Cup triumph over Northampton in 2002. He went on to become head coach at the club between 2003 and 2005, before returning to South Africa to take up a post with Western Province.

Since previously working with the Springboks as a defensive consultant in 2004 and 2005, Gold has now rejoined the national ranks on a permanent basis. The 41-year-old has been working alongside Peter de Villiers for the past year and is now desperate to help the Boks back up November’s impressive wins over England, Scotland and Wales with a series victory against the Lions.

And, just as the excitement surrounding the tour is continuing to rise in the UK and Ireland, Gold admits that expectations are absolutely huge in his homeland.

"There is so much anticipation and excitement amongst fans and players over here. The Lions is such a special and significant part of Springbok history and tradition that you are constantly reminded about the defeat 12 years ago. 

"It hurt the South Africans so much to lose in 1997, especially traditionalists who know that the Springboks outscored the Lions in terms of tries, so it was a bitter pill to swallow.

"A lot of people here still remember the 1974 Lions tour which was such a whitewash victory for
the Lions so there is no doubt that every single South African wants the squad to win this summer.

"For the South African players, the fact that the Lions only tour here every 12 years means that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play against the Lions. Of the 710 Springboks who have been capped since Unity only 26 players have ever been capped against the Lions."

Gary Gold (second from right, front row) is an assistant coach with the Springboks

In addition to assessing how their own players are faring in the ongoing Super 14, Gold and his fellow Springbok coaches have been keeping a close watch on the recent Six Nations, with a number of potential Lions catching the eye.

Gold believes the presence of the impending Lions tour has had a positive impact on individual performances and that, despite Ireland dominating the Home Unions and recording only their second-ever Grand Slam, the Lions will be represented by a wide selection of players from all across the four countries.

"It is obvious that the players have a major incentive to play well in this season in particular with the prospect of the Lions at the end," explained Gold.

"Whoever they pick, I am sure there will be a good spread of players from all four nations. I don’t think Wales will provide any more than perhaps 30% of the squad followed by Ireland and then Scotland and England making up the rest.

"It is interesting as obviously Wales and Ireland have done well against the Home Unions and we have been watching them particularly closely.  England are going through somewhat of a transitional period with
their new coach but all the games are impressively competitive.

"I have been impressed by some of the Scotland guys especially against Italy. I know that Italy can be a tough side so it was interesting to see some individual performances such as those from Simon Taylor, Jason White, Chris Paterson and Mike Blair."

The make up of the Lions touring party has been a hot topic for debate throughout rugby circles for months now and, with his knowledge of the British and Irish game and the history of the Lions, Gold can understand why.

While his attentions may be on helping select a Springbok side capable of erasing the memories of ’97, Gold accepts that Lions head coach Ian McGeechan will have plenty to think about before announcing his touring party towards the end of next month.

"I think the two full backs from Ireland and Wales respectively (Rob Kearney and Lee Byrne) will give the British & Irish Lions selectors a headache over the coming weeks.

"In terms of the second rowers – Paul O’Connell stands out for me but also Alun -Wyn Jones.

"When it comes to England, I can’t really say at the moment who should tour. I can’t discredit Nick Kennedy or Delon Armitage but then I am a bit biased as I coached them both at London Irish and think they are fantastic players. Both of them could be wildcards for the tour. 

Gold coached Lions hopeful Nick Kennedy (with ball) at London Irish

"I think Danny Care is a good player and an outside bet as well as Mike Blair. Similarly James Haskell is a fantastic player in my eyes but then so is Martyn Williams for Wales and David Wallace for Ireland. Both are real work horses.

"Ian McGeechan will be very wise in his selections and will pick a couple of experienced, old heads alongside youngsters who play with the freedom that won’t let the pressure of the occasion get to them."

No doubt Gold, de Villiers and co will do the same ahead of the most eagerly-anticipated sporting occasion of the year.

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