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Breakdown problems for Lions boss

IAN McGeechan has been on seven Lions tours either as a player or a coach, and there is little he doesn't know about trying to find the best way to beat the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks.

This trip to South Africa is testing even his vast experience.

Consider the Lions' first three matches of a 10-game tour he hopes will end in a test series victory over the world champions.

The Lions trailed by 12 points to a Royal XV lineup only to rally late in the game for a 37-25 victory. Then they overwhelmed Super 14 side Golden Lions 74-10, and on Saturday raced into a 20-0 lead against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein only to hold on for a 26-24 victory after the hosts missed with a late drop goal.

What makes that result more remarkable is that the Cheetahs finished last in the Super 14 and were without captain Juan Smith, who is training with the Springboks ahead of the three-test series that starts in Durban on June 20.

Coach McGeechan blamed some of Saturday's hot-and-cold performance on the fact that he changed his entire lineup from Wednesday's thrashing of the Golden Lions and nine of them hadn't started before on this tour.

But McGeechan was bewildered at the way his team went from coasting to holding on to victory. The Lions didn't concede a point between halftime of the Golden Lions game and the 27th minute of the Cheetahs match. But they folded when down to 14 men after Stephen Ferris was sent to the sin-bin, conceding two tries in eight minutes.

"We know we got ourselves into a good position and unfortunately didn't develop it as well as we should have done," McGeechan said. "Obviously the start was very good but it became a stop-start game after that, which disappointed us, and there was a lot of the game where nothing was happening.

"The breakdowns became a bit of a lottery and took much of the momentum out of our game. We knew that the games would get progressively tougher and expected that."

The Lions play the fourth game of the tour in Durban against the Sharks, who finished sixth in the Super 14, far higher than the Golden Lions and Cheetahs. Nine of the Sharks will miss the game because they are in the Springboks squad for the tests.

In Manchester, England, Delon Armitage scored two tries and Andy Goode kicked 22 points on Saturday to lead England to a 37-15 win over Argentina in the first of two tests.

England winger Matt Banahan marked his test debut with a try as England moved above Argentina to No. 5 in the world after having slipped to its lowest ranking of No. 8 during the Six Nations.

"Matt played very well. He forced the ball early and I can't remember him making a mistake," England manager Martin Johnson said.

Argentina flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez kicked 15 points.

Johnson's side has now strung together three straight victories - against France, Scotland and Argentina - for the first time since the 2007 Rugby World Cup.


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