Lions Tour: South Africa’s statement win sets up series decider

The Springboks proved a different proposition in a dominant second Test display

Lions number eight Jack Conan fails to stop South Africa wing Makazole Mapimpi as he scores the first try of the second Test in Cape Town. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa 27 Lions 9

As with the pre-match agenda, so the post-match analysis will probably revolve around the effects of the Rassie Erasmus Twitter attack and video rant, which could be interpreted as considerable.

The Lions probably had one try wrongly over-ruled whereas the Boks were afforded a decidedly questionable grounding, and in a first-half that lasted even longer than the Erasmus video, Cheslin Kolbe was fortunate not to be red-carded.

South Africa Rugby have confirmed that the second and third Lions Tests will be moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

No doubt Erasmus will now be hailed as a genius and a hero in his native land.


But, all officiating decisions aside, this game was almost a complete role reversal from the first Test. Where the Lions increasingly out-mauled, out-scrummed and dominated the air a week ago, here the reverse was true as the Boks improved immeasurably in all three areas.

They were also hungrier to loose balls and by the end, with each passing minute, the Boks’ pack were hammering home their all-round supremacy. This was a statement win.

What's more, the Bomb Squad had a palpable impact, whereas that of the Lions' replacements was negligible. This was quite dramatically marked in the scrums, and also the lineouts and mauling, with Malcolm Marx and Lood de Jager standing out.

The net effect was that after losing the first-half 9-6, the Boks won the second by 21-0.

In making it one-all, the Springboks thus ensured a Lions series has gone to a decider for the sixth time in the last nine tours.

Lions centre Robbie Henshaw is tackled over the South Africa try line during the second Test in Cape Town. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images

Initially, the Lions' defence was magnificent, Chris Harris drawing a line in the sand with a monster hit on Lukhanyo Am (yet another flip from last week) to spark a big defensive set, but thereafter he was hardly seen.

In the main this was because the Lions slavishly adhered to an aerial bombardment which yielded a dividend in the first half, but certainly not the second. The puzzling decision not to pick Liam Williams in the back three contributed to this and he will be one of the changes for next week.

That first half lasted/endured (dilute to taste) for 63 minutes and 50 seconds, almost two minutes longer than the Erasmus video – the two not being unconnected of course as the officials deliberated longer under the microscope placed on them by the South Africa director of rugby – a title which probably now suits him better.

Even if this game had taken place in non-pandemic times the referee and his team would probably have spent the previous couple of days in isolation and relying on room service anyway, for even the foyer would have been a no-go area.

Almost invariably, the first person which the Sky cameras focused on was the referee Ben O’Keeffe.

Amid all the brouhaha Ronan O’Gara, as he does, summed it up neatly when simply stating: “I think the senior leaders in the game need to uphold the integrity of the game. You have to respect the TMO, you have to respect the referee and respect it’s a two-way street.”

The equally inevitable first all-in scuffle enabled O’Keeffe to establish his presence with a stern warning to both captains.

After an initial exchange of three-pointers by Handré Pollard and Dan Biggar, the latter edged the Lions in front before a miss by Pollard undid superb counter-rucking by Siya Kolisi and Damian de Allende who, like Robbie Henshaw, again had a huge game.

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi runs with the ball during the second Test against the Lions in Cape Town. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

But the Boks’ new-found width was rewarded to a degree when Duhan van der Merwe, whose earlier late tackle on Pieter-Steph du Toit might have been punished, was sinbinned for a foot trip on Kolbe.

The on-field officials were soon engaging TMO Marius Jonker again when Kolbe chased Pollard's up-and-under and, although he had his eyes on the ball, took out the airborne Conor Murray.

Tom Curry went face to face with Kolbe, Willie le Roux rushed in and as others did, Bongi Mbonambi charged with his forearm into Biggar's back.

Kolbe was fortunate to only receive a yellow card for dangerous and reckless play, and Mbonambi not to have been sinbinned.

Some rugby occasionally broke out, super hands by Henshaw helping the Lions find both edges, but Kwagga Smith ripped the ball from Alun Wyn Jones. Pollard atoned with a superb strike to make it 6-6.

Given the chance to make it 9-6, instead the Lions went to the corner. This time Franco Mostert beat Courtney Lawes to the ball at the tail, but Maro Itoje tackled Etzebeth over the line to earn a five-metre scrum.

Murray picked himself up after being clattered high by Faf de Klerk to use a penalty advantage with a chip which Henshaw gathered and twisted into the in-goal area, but Kolisi produced a stunning defensive play to place his hand under the ball. But Henshaw was convinced he'd grounded it.

De Klerk was also fortunate not to see yellow but compensation came by way of a Biggar penalty, only for him to missed a penalty to touch just outside the Boks’ 22.

It was a merciful relief to hear O’Keeffe blow the half-time whistle.

Upon the resumption, Tadhg Furlong went down at a scrum and the Boks went wide both ways and to the air twice off the ensuing lineout. Stuart Hogg failed to gather the first, which was skilfully picked up by De Allende, before the Lions narrowed up and Pollard chipped to the space, where Maxillae Mapimpi gathered and broke Hogg's tackle to score.

As was the case a week ago, Pollard missed the conversion but Biggar’s angled penalty hit the post.

The Boks withstood an aerial bombardment and brought on De Jager to get their catch-and-drive motoring and, with a penalty advantage, Am was given a dodgy grounding from De Klerk’s grubber for Pollard’s conversion to make it 18-9.

Pollard kicked three more penalties, the second rewarding a monster scrum, to ram home the Springboks’ statement. They’re back, they’re level and they’ve the momentum now. Whether they scale the same embittered and wounded emotional heights next week will be intriguing, but the Lions were ultimately well beaten here.

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).