Lions face a massive challenge to get back up after Boks boss second Test

Despite all the off-field shenanigans, on it the world champions were utterly dominant

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus on the sideline during the second Test as Lions scrumhalf Conor Murray and South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe talk on the pitch. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus on the sideline during the second Test as Lions scrumhalf Conor Murray and South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe talk on the pitch. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

South Africa 27 British & Irish Lions 9

So Rassie won, and the Springboks deservedly and emphatically did so too, to such an extent that the physical and mental mauling the Lions endured may prove beyond healing in next Saturday’s third Test.

In truth, Rassie could probably have gone into hiding last week – admittedly that’s somewhat hard to imagine – and the Springboks would have won anyway, so utterly dominant had their performance become by the end last Saturday.

Yet his ‘personal’ campaign, culminating in that unprecedented 62-minute long video, to pile microscopic scrutiny on the match officials undoubtedly had an effect, especially in a first half almost two minutes longer than the rant. It couldn’t not have.

Where some of the big marginals went with the Lions a week ago, several went in the Boks’ favour a week on, and more contentiously so.

Most obviously, Cheslin Kolbe should have been red-carded rather than sin-binned for taking out Conor Murray in the air in the 23rd minute. End of.

It wasn’t deliberate or intentional, Kolbe is not a dirty player. But it was reckless and dangerous, and lacked the requisite duty of care to the airborne Murray.

The officials also failed in their duty of care to player wellbeing, with Ben O’Keeffe’s assertion that Murray landed on his back simply wrong. But could you imagine the Rassie/South African storm if Marius Jonker had pointed out to O’Keeffe that he was wrong, watched it again, and brandished a red card?

Quite why Jonker didn’t have Faf de Klerk’s shoulder hit into Murray’s face reviewed only he knows. Judged by the criteria enforced by World Rugby this past season, that should have warranted a red card as well.

The Boks may well have won with 14 men anyway, but even in this mood doing so with 13 might have been beyond them. But, when you think about it, Rassie’s Rant always made a red card in this game less likely with or without supporters.

Given how the ‘director’ of rugby’ – unshaven and unashamed as the Guardian put it – had whipped up temperatures, this might have been the one game better served without a crowd. Mercifully so.

Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa scores a try during the second Test in Cape Town. Photograph: EPA
Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa scores a try during the second Test in Cape Town. Photograph: EPA

The Lions will rightfully rue two ‘try’ decisions, when Siya Kolisi was deemed to have prevented the heroic Robbie Henshaw from grounding the ball just before half-time and Lukhanyo Am was adjudged to have completed a touchdown even though one camera angle seemed to show daylight between his hand/arm and the ball.

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Again though, even if those two decisions went the other way the evidence of the second half suggests the Boks would still have won, such was their increasingly comprehensive dominance in the scrums, lineouts, mauls and in the air.

Those four areas all contributed to the pivotal, breakthrough try superbly finished by the predatory Makazole Mapimpi, along with a sumptuous dummy pass and perfectly weighted chip into space by the imperious Handré Pollard. A rare shaft of real skill in the gloom.

De Klerk’s grubber for the Am try, exposing the out of position Stuart Hogg, was deftly executed too. Superbly though the Lions defended across the gainline, in the first period especially, as in the first Test, kicks in behind caused havoc.

But it was the Lions’ tactics with the ball which were lamentable. Bereft of ambition, their primary ploy – nay, pretty much their only one – was kick, chase, slap it down and see what happens. And then kick, chase, slap it down and see what happens.

The problem was that the slaps either drifted forward or were gobbled up by the Boks, but even so Young Munster and Old Wesley played more rugby in their 1990s arm wrestles than this.

Even amid the brutality of the second Test 12 years ago, the Lions played some fantastic running rugby and fashioned a superb try by Rob Kearney.

If the Lions couldn’t out-muscle the Boks in an arm wrestle last Saturday, they are even less likely to do so next Saturday. Whether or not the Boks can cultivate the same us-against-the-wall, emotional hurt and vengeance again this week, they’ll have a new-found confidence and momentum and are liable to be even fitter and more match-sharpened.

In the heel of the hunt, the Lions have scored only one try in two games, off a lineout maul, and save for the Henshaw chance off Murray’s kick with house money, didn’t fire a shot in the second Test. They almost certainly cannot win the deciding third Test without scoring tries, plural.

Their back play was again almost non-existent. Chris Harris may not have made much of an impact, but he only had three carries in the match, the same as Anthony Watson, while Duhan van der Merwe had one.

It’s hard to inject tempo when the opposition are masters at slowing the game down and engineering time-outs but somehow the Lions have to do so and move this South African juggernaut around.

It’s also difficult to find space on the edges against such an aggressive defence. Some hitherto unseen strike moves and a greater willingness to keep the ball off the ground would help.

However, can the Lions just turn it on like a tap? The problem is that changes will be necessary and so will fine-tuning a more risky and ambitious game, yet at the end of a long, hard season Warren Gatland has understandably favoured two or three days respite at the start of Test week three.

Furthermore, as the Boks showed here, they have a more settled side with a well established and uncomplicated, World Cup-winning formula which they have now tapped into so effectively.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 5 mins: Pollard pen 3-0; 10: Biggar pen 3-3; 17: Biggar pen 3-6; 32: Pollard pen 6-6; 37: Biggar pen 6-9; (half-time 6-9); 45: Mapimpi try 11-9; 61: Am try, Pollard con 18-9; 71: Pollard pen 21-9; 76: Pollard pen 24-9; 81: Pollard pen 27-9.

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz); Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), Damian de Allende (Munster), Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks); Handré Pollard (Montpellier), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks); Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers), Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers); Eben Etzebeth (Toulon), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat); Siya Kolisi (Cell C Sharks, capt), Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers).

Replacements: Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Júbilo) for Du Toit (22 mins), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) for Moonambi, Lood de Jager (Sale Sharks) for Wiese (both 53 mins), Vincent Koch (Saracens) for Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls) Kitshoff (both 60 mins), Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers) for De Klerk (64 mins), Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) for Mapimpi (68 mins), Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls) for Kolisi (73 mins).

Sin-binned: Kolbe (23-33 mins),

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland); Anthony Watson (Bath, England), Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland); Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland); Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland); Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales, capt); Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England), Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland).

Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) for Cowan-Dickie, Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) for Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) for Furlong (all 57 mins), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) for Murray, Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) for Biggar (both 58 mins), Taulupe Faletau (Bath, Wales) for Conan (60 mins), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) for Harris (62 mins), Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland) for Lawes (71 mins).

Sin-binned: Van der Merwe (23-33 mins).

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand).

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