Springboks stay classy in wake of painful first Test defeat to Lions

No complaints from South Africa despite marginal decisions that went against them

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber did not dispute   referee Nic Berry’s questionable call. Photograph:  Steve Haag/PA Wire

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber did not dispute referee Nic Berry’s questionable call. Photograph: Steve Haag/PA Wire

 

As proud Springboks, the home side was hurting profoundly after their first defeat since their opening World Cup pool game against New Zealand, but there were no excuses, nor even complaints over a couple of key, marginal decisions which went against them.

They were very classy, none more so than their director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who put aside his verbal tete-a-tete with Warren Gatland in the build-up to the first Test when he tweeted to the Lions’ official account: “No excuses this side! You are far away from home, families and going through same tough covid protocols like we do! Congrats and well deserved!”

The Springboks could privately feel rightly aggrieved at the decision by the South African TMO Marius Jonker to decree that Willie le Roux had been fractionally ahead of the ball when Makazole Mapimpi chipped ahead for the fullback to win the race to the touchdown.

Questionable

In real time, le Roux did look fractionally ahead of the ball, but in the freeze frame he looked level. Given referee Nic Berry’s on-field decision had been to award a try that makes Jonker’s ruling all the more questionable.

Soon after, Hamish Watson also appeared very fortunate not to be yellow carded for a tip tackle on le Roux, with Handré also missing the subsequent penalty.

But the Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber did not dispute either call.

The British & Irish Lions

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“I thought it was tight. As soon as we saw the try was given we, as coaches, thought it was going to be extremely tight. But I completely agree with and trust the decision they made. That is their profession, that is what they are good at.

“It could have gone both ways in my opinion, but I 100 per cent agree with the TMO decision. Sometimes those inches go for you and you score a brilliant try from a counterattack and sometimes it goes against you.”

Nienaber also accepted that the game was lost elsewhere.

“In the second half we lost it in the air – the kicking game, we got the rewards in the first half but in the second half they dominated. That gave them territory and broken play.”

Nor would he apportion any of their second-half decline to the outbreak of Covid-19 in their ranks which had disrupted the Boks’ preparations.

‘Good cohesion’

“It is well documented we haven’t played a lot of rugby together and I think it would be naive to say it doesn’t have an effect but if you look at what happened in the first half, we had good cohesion. I don’t think we can look at that as an excuse and say Covid was the reason why we didn’t dominate or have parity in the air because we did in the first half.”

Faf de Klerk did not feel that the Lions were better than he expected, but conceded that their discipline slipped in the second half.

“If we can replay the first five minutes of the second half it would probably be a different outcome. A really close game, a few decisions maybe – not wrong but could have gone either way.

“We are a proud team, a proud nation. We definitely will make sure we rectify the errors that we made. That’s pretty much it, we’ll definitely come back with a bit more fire in our belly, a bit more anger, but we need to control the anger to make sure our discipline is in check.

“If our discipline is good and we can sort out our aerial battle, we should be all good going forward. It’s going to be another massive challenge next week, but we’re looking forward to it.

“We’re wounded Springboks, we like having our backs against the wall and we can fight our way out of that.”

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