'He can ask different questions than any fly-half in the world'

Lions attack coach Gregor Townsend knows the tourists need to create more tomorrow.

Finn Russell with Gregor Townsend.
Finn Russell with Gregor Townsend.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE SPRINGBOKS HAVE gone for 37-year-old Morné Steyn as their replacement out-half for tomorrow’s deciding Test against the Lions, hoping that his composure and kicking class will be decisive under pressure if they need him late on.

Steyn was, of course, the man who kicked the winning penalty in the 2009 Lions series and it is a remarkable achievement to be involved again.

Meanwhile, the Lions have named Scotland maverick Finn Russell as their back-up out-half on the bench despite the Racing 92 man having last played back on 10 July due to an Achilles tendon injury.

The creative playmaker is now set for his Lions Test debut and could have a big role to play off the bench tomorrow in Cape Town.

“He’s got himself on the bench because we know he can ask different questions than any fly-half in the world and he’s trained really well this week, outstanding on Tuesday and again yesterday,” said Lions attack coach Gregor Townsend this morning.

“So he’s feeling much better around where he is with his Achilles and just connecting with others in the team. If he does get on then I look forward to seeing him play but obviously we’re looking at our 15 to begin with doing all they can to win this game.”

Townsend is hoping to see much more from the Lions attack tomorrow. Their only try of the two Tests so far was a maul effort and last weekend’s second Test saw them create very few chances aside from when Robbie Henshaw very nearly scored.

While Townsend accepts that the Lions need to be better with ball in hand, he also indicated that their tactical plan has been partly built around winning penalties from the Springboks defence.

gregor-townsend Townsend knows the Lions attack needs to create more. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We have got to create more, that’s for sure,” said Townsend. “If you create opportunities, whether that comes through errors in the defence that can get you linebreaks that lead to tries, that gives you a better chance to win the game.

“But you may create more through pressure, through fatiguing opposition, getting penalties. In these tight Test matches, that could be enough to win the game.

“We did that well in the first Test, especially in the second half. We were building into that sort of performance in the first half of the second Test but we didn’t do it for 80 minutes.

“We know that we have to control the game more by moving South Africa around, draining them of energy whenever we can. That will be an area where we focus for sure.”

Lions out-half Dan Biggar passed the ball just three times in the second Test, a stat that has led to plenty of the criticism of the tourists’ attack.

But Townsend said that number didn’t paint a complete picture.

“One thing was we kicked a few times in the opposition half. Sometimes that brought a reward, sometimes it didn’t. That was obviously a strategy. In the first half, we felt we were getting momentum a lot playing off nine [scrum-half].

“When you are playing off nine, obviously the 10 is not going to touch the ball on too many occasions. In terms of a half of rugby, we were pretty pleased with a lot of work going on.

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the-british-irish-lions-celebrate-after-luke-cowan-dickie-scores-a-try-from-the-maul The Lions have only scored one try in the first two Tests. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We could have moved the ball more. We could have taken the opportunities when we got in the 22, just come alive a bit more, but it was a half of rugby where Dan was at 10 where he made really good decisions.

“Dan didn’t play a huge amount in the second half so if we are looking at a passing stat, he obviously didn’t play 80 minutes and in that second half, we didn’t get that much ball.

“But whether a 10 passes a lot or not is not necessarily a good or a bad thing; we want our 10s to take on this blitz defence too. So people are rushing up on the outside, you can play round it, you can play between it or you can take it on as a first receiver and Dan did that a couple of times well.

“There are more nuances and a bit more behind those stats. In terms of a first half of rugby with Dan at 10, we felt we did enough to control that game and put more points on the board.”

As the Lions look to clinch the series, Townsend said they are hopeful tomorrow’s game won’t be as slow as last weekend’s, which lasted more than two hours and 10 minutes.

The Lions have spoken to referee Mathieu Raynal about their desire to speed things up.

“Yeah, we have made the point that we don’t want unnecessary stoppages,” said Townsend.

“You keep the tempo and the flow of the game through your own accuracy and decision-making. When the game stops for a scrum or lineout, you want it restarted as quickly as possible.

“Everybody who is watching it at home does, so I’d like to think that it will be a shorter game this weekend than last weekend.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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