Lions legend Jeremy Guscott says backs “embarrassed themselves” in South Africa

Jeremy Guscott has directed stern criticism at certain members of the British and Irish Lions squad for their poor execution in what was a key area during the series defeat in South Africa.

In fact, Guscott went so far as to suggest the back-three line-ups for both teams—the wingers and full-backs—“embarrassed themselves” for displaying such a messy game under the high ball.

It was clear early on Lions coach Warren Gatland wanted to take control of the aerial duel against the Springboks, sticking with Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson and Duhan van der Merwe for the first two Tests.

He later moved Liam Williams and Josh Adams in at full-back and winger, respectively, for the third and final Test in Cape Town, though it didn’t help improve matters much in that area.

Guscott looked back on the series in his latest column for The Rugby Paper and praised South Africa’s backs on the whole, but he despaired regarding the kick-heavy approach of both teams.

“The Springboks chose a strategy based on the most efficient way to win, and while it may have been short on style, my view is that with runners as dangerous as Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am, Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, the South African backline is one of the best in the world – if not the best,” he wrote.

“The only criticism I would make is that while the 2021 Lions result was a great one for South Africa, there was too much kicking.

“It might have been better to watch if it hadn’t highlighted how poor the catching was from both sides. The back threes embarrassed themselves with their lack of technique, which is not good enough in a professional sport in which you can practise skills to perfection.”

Guscott sits among an exclusive club of Lions who have won multiple tours in the southern hemisphere, beating Australia in 1989 before playing a vital role in the 1997 triumph over South Africa.

It was the ex-England centre’s famous drop goal that clinched the second Test and an early series victory in that latter meeting with the Springboks 24 years ago.

Boasting that experience gives Guscott some licence to criticise the current crop for their shortcomings, with the tourists’ tactics often playing into South Africa’s hands this summer.

Many will wonder might have been had Finn Russell —who came on to replace the injured Dan Biggar 10 minutes into the third Test—been able to have a greater impact on proceedings.

The Scotland fly-half had only recently returned from an achilles injury prior to the third game in Cape Town, but it was his forward-thinking play that transformed the back line on his Lions Test debut.

Russell couldn’t affect the catching capabilities of Hogg, Williams, Watson or Van der Merwe, but he might have helped promote a more direct running game instead.

It was forecasted that 5’6” winger Kolbe could be targeted as a weak point in the aerial bombardment, but he ultimately stood firm alongside Willie le Roux and Mapimpi.

Le Roux in particular came to the fore as an unsuspecting hero for the reigning world champions, offering a steadfast last line of defence despite repeated tests under the high ball.

His catching contributions may not have impressed Guscott, although they were nonetheless sufficient to seal a series win against rugby’s most famous tourists.

At least for now, that is, amid suggestions from South Africa that Rassie Erasmus’ hour-long video outburst against officials could see South Africa stripped of the series victory.

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