- 01 Aug 21
With much of the game foreshadowed by Rassie Erasmus Twitter antics and the scrutiny of last week’s officiating, the ‘Boks came out with a point to prove. South Africa romped to a 27-9 victory over the Lions in a stop-start game where South Africa relied on their fundamentals and kept the test series alive.
Well at least we won’t have a dead rubber game.
The big tale before today’s match was about last week’s officiating and Rassie Erasmus' social media swordplay. And he certainly influenced proceedings. It felt like Ben O’Keefe was referring to Marius Jonker for every minor infringement in a slow and arduous test match as South Africa showed their class.
The refereeing team performed well but the constant referrals upstairs took the wind out of a game which became scarcely enjoyable. Despite a few moments of aggro between the two sides, there was little to chew on as a spectacle, but plenty to tuck into from a rugby standpoint.
The Lions started well and seemed to be the more physical of the two in the opening exchanges. Big hits from the Lions, and Tadhg Furlong especially, kept the Springboks on the back foot as the Lions managed to string some phases together and make some forays into the opposition 22.
But they crumbled as the ‘Boks showed their world cup-winning class.
The Springboks completely dominated the second half and in particular the forward battle. South Africa mauled the Lions with ease and the men in red had to resort to infringing to stop it. It made for grim viewing from a Lions perspective and should strike concern into the hearts of Warren Gatland's coaching staff.
The Lions looked toothless.
With classy tries from Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi along with Handré Pollard's boot, the Springboks charged to a 27-9 victory over their northern hemisphere counterparts. It's an ugly score line for the tourists but one which reflects the class of the world champions.
The Springboks have levelled up the series and will feel the more confident of the two teams going into next week’s decisive showdown.
The Lions showed they were up for the physical battle in the early exchanges with Alun Wyn Jones and Eben Etzebeth’s staring contest early on amid a skirmish between the two sides. The old warhorse didn’t break under the 6 foot 9 titan’s glare and the Lions looked to be in the ascendency. The Lions were winning collisions but the ‘Boks grew into the game after the hour mark.
It was peculiar as Gatland highlighted staying in the fight for the first half hour as crucial, but the Lions had a fair measure of control here, before the momentum swung. It seemed to slip away from the Lions as every bounce of the ball seemed to favour South Africa, and they began to turn the screw up front.
In the second half, it was completely one-sided. Tadhg Furlong levelled out on his stomach after the pressure from the man they call the “spicy plum,” Steven Kitshoff, barrelling into the Jukebox. The ‘Boks disrupted the Lions' ball in from the lineouts with the normally reliable Ken Owens missing the mark with his first 2 throws.
The breakdown became an issue for the Lions as the ‘Boks slowed the Lions' ball down with the Lions unable to get a sniff of any South African ball. The Lions were under severe pressure and it showed in the number of penalties they conceded, and Mapimpi’s try.
A team under pressure concedes penalties and gets sucked in close to the ruck which creates space out wide. In the ruck before Mapimpi’s try, a number of Lions defenders were caught in no man’s land near the ruck defending nothing. It left buckets of space for the deadly winger and he didn’t need to be asked twice.
Worrying signs for the Lions.
The ‘Boks ripped the game away from the Lions with ease and class.
The Lions were quite poor in the air. The omission of Liam Williams from the matchday squad will be a regret for Gats as Watson, Hogg and DVDM struggled under the incessant peppering of the backfield by Pollard and De Klerk. The back three couldn’t handle it.
Watson knocked on a number of times as did Hogg, whilst DVDM struggled to compete with Le Roux and co. The South African backline just plucked each bomb, and threw it right back at the Lions. The Lions were constantly running with their backs turned and the ‘Boks took advantage routinely.
Kick, win a penalty, kick to the corner, maul them over, repeat.
This will have to be rectified by Gats and his backroom staff. This was an area of strength for the Lions last week and so it’s evident Nienaber and his side targeted this area of the game and it paid dividends.
Will Gats have to reshuffle the backline?
It’s hard to say. Liam Williams is assured under the high ball as they come and would have been a steadying hand for the Lions. Watson and DVDM showed very little going forward as the Lions simply had no platform to launch from as South Africa strangled them at set piece and in the aerial battle. It's certainly an area that needs improving.
The rumbling South African maul was a sight to behold. With each lineout they claimed, Lions fans sighed with desperate resignation as Kolisi and co strolled onwards for 10, 15, 20 metres with little resistance. It looked easy for the ‘Boks.
The answer won’t simply be physicality. The Lions are every bit as big and strong as their opposition. They will need to work on their maul defence and also find a way to address their breakdown issues where the ‘Boks prospered. After that showing, I would imagine Nienaber and Erasmus are the happier of the two coaching setups ahead of next week’s clash.
Our Irish Lions
- Tadhg Furlong struggled massively at scrum time, something you don’t hear often. The Wexford man was pinged for scrum penalties on a number of occasions and looked to be struggling massively before he was hauled off. He carried robustly in the opening passages of the game, making some impressive metres, but ultimately he will want to improve ahead of next week.
- Jack Conan was largely nullified by the Springboks but offered his trademark footwork and made some good defensive hits. The Wicklow man was stuck at the back of a retreating scrum and his default starting position was on the back foot which made it difficult to put his stamp on the contest. He may lose his starting spot to Faletau if Gats makes changes.
- Conor Murray kicked very well at the start of the game and put pressure on the ‘Boks but found it difficult to source quick ball at the bottom of some vicious rucks. He was involved in a scary collision with Cheslin Kolbe as the Munster man jumped for the ball and ended up with his face in the dirt as the Toulouse man collided with him unintentionally. He should keep his spot ahead of next week's test.
- Robbie Henshaw can possibly count himself unlucky to not have had a try but Kolisi made an excellent feelings dn it was my feeling and that of the refereeing party that the Athlone man failed to dot it down. He hasn’t quite managed to play his own game in what have been tight and suffocating encounters but he has done as much as can be asked of him.
- Tadhg Beirne came into a game that was already dead and buried, with the versatile forward left to fill a hole in a ragged Lions defence. He may profit from a shake up in the squad should Gats elect to make changes as he offers a dynamism the Lions could utilised for the final decisive test.
You can forget about talk of the ‘Boks not being up to scratch. These boys are world class.
South African supporters will be inflated after watching that performance. It was easy for their forward pack at points in the second half as they just seemed to cripple all the Lions had, despite their valiant efforts. But I feel there was an element of the Lions letting this slip a little, before the ‘Boks tore it from their grasp.
The stop-start suits the ‘Boks style of play. The Lions couldn’t get anything going in a game where Ben O’Keefe would have to the TMO to check how much time was left on the clock. Fair enough given the monumental scrutiny he was under.
Changes might be wrung for the Lion, personnel and from a game plan perspective, but so much can change in a week. We head into test three for a truly mouth watering encounter. We’ve seen both teams thrive when the other is off the pace, but you can be sure we will see both teams at their peak going at it hammer and tongs next week.
Next Saturday, we have an epic showdown where the winner takes all and the loser is left to contend with the hurt of failure. South Africa has been waiting 12 years for this, most of next week’s starting teams have waited a lifetime. It’s all to play for as South Africa level the series 1 a piece.
Who wants a dead rubber game anyway?