Anthony Watson drawing on experience ahead of Lions opener

Bath man lost to South Africa in the World Cup final.

By Press Association Published: 20 July 2021 - 1.49pm
Rugby Union

South Africa

British & Irish Lions

Anthony Watson’s memory of the 2019 World Cup final has provided two essential pointers for the British and Irish Lions series’ opener against South Africa – start fast and win the aerial battle.

Watson was present for England’s crushing defeat by the Springboks in Japan and is expected to be given a prominent role in Saturday’s clash at Cape Town Stadium

Twenty months ago Eddie Jones’ men began slowly and never recovered with Watson also viewing the world champions’ barrage in the air, directed by half-backs Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, as instrumental in their downfall.

“The importance of the kicking game, that was huge in that World Cup final. We came out second best to them. They definitely dominated us in that area,” the Bath wing said.

“They gained great momentum and gained great field position from that area and that gave them the leg up they needed.

“And similar to the South Africa A game last week as well as the World Cup final, the start was huge.

“We didn’t put ourselves in good positions in either of those two games and therefore found ourselves trying to claw our way back into the game, which is much more difficult against a team like South Africa.

“It’s important to get off to a good start, 100 per cent against these guys. And that’s it on a smaller scale if you look at the entire series – how important it is to get off to a good start, not only in the game but in the series.”

The Springboks field the game’s most physical pack with Siya Kolisi at the helm following his recovery from coronavirus, but Watson insists that they are just as formidable behind the scrum.

“They have more subtlety in their backs. They’ve got some individual players who have very rounded skill sets – guys like Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende and Handre Pollard,” Watson said.

“They can be physical but they’ve also got good footwork and good skill sets. It’s about being prepared.

Liam Williams has recovered from concussion and could face South Africa on Saturday
Liam Williams has recovered from concussion and could face South Africa on Saturday (Steve Haag/PA)

“If you do your due diligence in terms of your homework, you know what they like to do in certain positions and you know what to expect in certain areas of the field. That puts you in good stead come Saturday.”

The players will learn on Tuesday if they have been picked to start the first Test, leaving three full days for the starting XV to fine tune preparations.

Full-back Liam Williams has completed his return to play protocols for concussion, placing him in contention for a back three spot, most likely alongside Watson and Josh Adams.

Among their tasks in Cape Town will be stopping Kolbe, South Africa’s superstar wing with electric footwork and searing pace.

“Whoever is up against him will just have to make sure they do their homework. Everyone is aware of his skill set and how much he can influence a game,” Watson said.

“But you can also flip it on its head and try and look at where you can expose him on a one-to-one basis as well. It is not just all about him going forward.

“He has also got to defend whoever is against him. It is not a one-way battle.”

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