Lions have the ability to withstand expected Boklash

Gatland’s side have the momentum and the opportunity to clinch famous series win

Conor Murray: his experience will be a huge asset as the Lions take on a wounded South Africa at Cape Town Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Conor Murray: his experience will be a huge asset as the Lions take on a wounded South Africa at Cape Town Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

South Africa v British and Irish Lions, Cape Town Stadium, Kick-off: 6pm local time (5pm Irish). On TV: Live on Sky Sports Main Event (Highlights Virgin Media Two)

Sideshow Rassie gives way, for a couple of hours at least, to the main event.

Lest we forget, the Lions have the momentum and the opportunity to clinch a famous series win. The Springboks, as has been made abundantly clear, are wounded, bitter, vengeful and desperately fighting for their series’ lives.

The Boklash was probably guaranteed anyway but, after Siya Kolisi yesterday doubled downed on the belief that he wasn’t treated with the same respect as Alun Wyn Jones by Nick Berry in the first Test, the world champions’ response is sure to be fierce and ferocious.

As the back-to-back rounds of the European Cup constantly demonstrated, results a week later can be turned on their head. Even on the Lions’ last eight expeditions south, dating back to 1989, the losers from the first Test came back to level the series a week later five times.

One of the exceptions was in South Africa in 1997, when the Boks outscored the Lions three tries to nil in the second Test but their failure to pick a goalkicker cost them the match and the series.

The All Blacks backed up a first Test win in 2005 with the Dan Carter Wellington master class against depleted tourists, and after the Lions’ week-long campaign over ‘Speargate’ it arguably remains the only game in history where the winning team were looking for revenge.

In South Africa 12 years ago the Boks sealed the series in the second Test at Loftus Versfeld, and possibly the most physically brutal Test of the professional era.

Six players ended up in hospital, five of them Lions, with Schalk Burger only yellow carded for eye gouging Luke Fitzgerald in the second minute. Thankfully, the sport is altogether less tolerant of such excesses nowadays.

As Jean de Villers, the Boks outside centre that day, admitted to this paper last week: “If that game was played today there probably would have been five red cards and 72 yellow cards”.

Undoubtedly, the Boklash could take the series to a decider. They will be more match-hardened, also having overcome the draining effects of Covid. But to what extent just a week later remains to be seen.

A call-up for the ball-carrying of the abrasive Jasper Wiese should supplement the efforts of Damian de Allende in giving them more go-forward. But the ball will have to go beyond him occasionally if Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi are to be a factor.

Scrum ascendancy

They have also promoted Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, half-time replacements last week after it transpired that Ox Nché (neck) and hooker Bongi Mbonambi (hamstring) were injured and so changed their front row entirely.

But judged on last week, Nché is a loss. Tadhg Furlong was far from dominated by him, but had less issues with the taller Kitshoff. And according to Adam Jones, a tighthead rock for the Lions 12 years ago and now scrum coach at Harlequins, the first Test suggested Malherbe is not the force of two years ago, as he gave Mako Vunipola a relatively easy ride after his introduction.

With Vunipola promoted to starting loosehead, there is little reason for believing the Boks can gain anything like the scrum ascendancy which was critical to their first test win a dozen years ago or their World Cup final success.

The Lions mightn’t replicate their maul supremacy of a week ago – that will have hurt Bok pride as much as any aspect of their defeat. However their other changes – Conor Murray and Chris Harris to start, Taulupe Faletau on the bench – will further strengthen them for another armwrestle.

Murray’s selection also points to a more pragmatic approach toward the territorial battle from the start. The Boks have their Bomb Squad back intact, but the Lions’ bench looks better suited to upping the tempo in the last quarter. Several of the Lions combinations ought also be sharper.

There’s also the suspicion that Warren Gatland has got under Rassie Erasmus’s skin. Yes, the Boks beat Wales in the World Cup semi-final, but only just, and that was after Wales had beaten them four times in a row.

Wales lost Josh Navidi and Liam Williams before that game, Tomos Francis and George North by half-time, and Dan Biggar before the hour. Yet still Wales were going toe-to-toe inside the last ten minutes until three Jerome Garces penalties later the Boks won 19-16.

The ball was kicked 81 times that day, and there will be more of the same today. But Gatland has a much better squad to pick from this time. Only Biggar, Alun Wyn Jones and the replacement hooker Ken Owens of these Lions played in Yokohama, whereas South Africa retain 11 of the starting line-up (Kolbe also returned for the final) and 17 of the match-day 23.

Under scrutiny

Alas, of course, Ben O’Keeffe and his officials will be under scrutiny like never before. One hopes they have no major calls to make early on, like a potential red card.

The Kiwi looked a little rattled after sending off the Wallabies centre Marika Koroibete in the fifth minute of the third Test between Australia and France two weeks ago, suffice to say Fabien Galthie’s submission to World Rugby might have been a lengthy one.

Even the bookies can’t pick a favourite. As in the ‘A’ game and last week, the Boks probably need a lead, but they look less equipped to see out a game and to come from behind.

If the Lions are mentally right to match fire with fire in a controlled manner and don’t again concede unnecessary first-half penalties, they should win again.

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 (captain, Cell C Sharks), Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers).

Replacements: Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls), Vincent Koch (Saracens), Lood de Jager (Sale Sharks), Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls), Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Júbilo), Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers), Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers).

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

Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England), Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England)

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Mathieu Raynal (France)

TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Head-to-head: Played 46, South Africa 23 wins, 6 draws, Lions 18 wins.

Betting (Paddy Power): Evens South Africa, 18/1 Draw, Evens Lions.

Forecast: Lions to win.

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