Shaun Edwards has described the British & Irish Lions’ quest for a Test series victory over the world champion Springboks as "the ultimate rugby challenge".
The day after Peter de Villiers announced his 28 man squad for the three-Test Castle Series, and on the ever of the tourists’ second game on tour against the Xerox Golden Lions, the Lions’ defence coach gave his view on the task ahead.
“This is the ultimate rugby challenge. We have seven weeks to get together to play a team that has been together for almost seven years,” said Edwards.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of in my coaching career. We know the Springboks are a very good side and they have huge depth in quality with great experience, speed and power from 1-15.”
But before the Lions get ahead of themselves they have to face the Golden Lions at Coca Cola Park in Johannesburg. Edwards was as hurt as any of the players at seeing his defensive systems torn to shreds by the makeshift Royal XV in the opening game last weekend.
They scored three tries and hit the Lions with a succor punch from a line-out by using their driving maul to squeeze hooker Rayno Barnes over.
“The one thing we know for sure is that we aren’t going to win a Test series if we let in three tries a game against the Springboks,” said Edwards.
“I met a couple of South Africans in the hotel lobby the other day and they asked me how I was involved with the Lions. When I told them I was the defence coach they just said, ‘best of luck mate’.”
Edwards voiced his concern and opinions to the players over the three tries the Lions’ conceded in their first outing and he expects things to be much better as the tour progresses.
“The players are just an extension of me really. If they miss a tackle I’m with them in spirit and body. I’m just like a player who has a bad game when I see my team concede tries – it hurts,” he added.
“Then you just can’t wait for the next game. That’s how I’m feeling about this game on Wednesday night.
“The first-half against the Royal XV didn’t go very well, but I was pretty happy with the second half when we lowered our error count.
“The first 20 minutes of that game was an indication of how rusty we were, but we’ve had more time to train together before the game against the Golden Lions and everybody saw what happened on Saturday.
“In the end, we toughed it out and came back very well to win the game last weekend.”
As for the Golden Lions, Edwards has earmarked the experienced Springbok playmaker Andre Pretorius at outside half, “a Crackerjack of a scrum half” in Jano Vermaak and a Scott Quinnell style No 8 in Willem Alberts as the major threats.
Edwards also wants to keep the hard running Golden Lions centres in check as the Lions seek to build momentum in their playing style.