View from South Africa: Springbok improvement gives locals a boost

Feeling ahead of the deciding Test is of quiet confidence that tourists will be beaten

South Africa’s Makazole Mapimpi is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try in their second Test win over the Lions. Photo: Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images

South African rugby fans have exhaled a collective sigh of relief following the Springbok’s comprehensive victory over the British & Irish Lions on Saturday, with many people saying their performance reflected the mettle that won the team the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Indeed, the manner in which the hosts went about dismantling the tourists in the second half of their 27-9 victory in Cape Town has left local rugby writers believing the Springboks are now strong favourites to win the three-Test series in the final game next weekend.

Writing in the online news outlet News24, Rob Houwing said that the mental boost the Springboks will get from their second-half blitzkrieg in Saturday’s must-win Test - which saw them post 21 unanswered points -- will be immense going into the decider.

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

The momentum of the series has moved completely the way of the home team and the tourists are the ones who will have to come up with answers before next week's decider

“[Springbok captain] Siya Kolisi’s side can feel with some justification that they are finally banishing rust and stamina-related issues to a profound extent in time for the tantalising decider, the first time since 1955 on these shores that the final Test of a Lions series has not been a dead-rubber affair,” he said.


Houwing went on to muse that as a result of the Lions’ capitulation at the weekend the players might now wearily succumb to “’long-tour syndrome’ - particularly given the pandemic-related conditions around it”.

He concluded that if the Boks can secure a victory on Saturday to win the series by two Tests to one, it would put the team on a promising course to win silverware in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship that begins later this month.

Step up

The Daily Maverick’s Craig Ray maintained there was always a feeling in South Africa that the Boks would improve as the Test series went on, but that the step up they took in Saturday’s game was massive.

“The momentum of the series has moved completely the way of the home team and the tourists are the ones who will have to come up with answers before next week’s decider,” he wrote.

In the build-up to Saturday’s game South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus made an unprecedented video detailing 26 questionable decisions that went against the Boks in the opening Test, which the Lions won.

The move by Munster Rugby’s former head coach appeared designed to put pressure on the referees ahead of the second Test, and many rugby lovers wondered if such antics would indeed have such an impact.

Ray said that although it was a highly irregular approach from a director of rugby, to link it directly to the outcome of the second Test would be a stretch.

“Erasmus’ video only appeared to ensure that the officiating was of a much higher standard in this Test, which had to be a good thing. There were some tight calls, of course, but it’s hard to recall a complete howler from the officials,” he concluded.

Across the board South Africa’s pundits believe that Lions head coach Warren Gatland now faces a very difficult week in terms of team selection going into the final game.

Former Springboks coach Nick Mallet said on SuperSport TV that the Lions would have to rethink their strategy ahead of the decider, in terms of whether they would adopt the more expansive game they had used to good effect in the warm-up matches on tour.

Within one week of relaxing the lockdown restrictions, which included the unbanning of alcohol sales, the Western Cape's intensive care and high care wards are at maximum capacity

“Or are they still going to try and arm-wrestle with South Africa? The ball is in their court,” stated Mallett.

While northern hemisphere rugby fans are likely disappointed at seeing their team unable to grasp the opportunity to win the Test series on Saturday, few neutral supporters would begrudge South Africans the emotional lift the victory has given them.

In the midst of a devastating third wave of Covid-19 and after witnessing unprecedented civil unrest following the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma on July 8th, South Africans have been in desperate need of something positive to cheer about.

While the peak of the third wave has passed in many parts of the country, the Western Cape province – where the Lions series was moved to a few weeks ago – is now South Africa’s worst affected region. It accounted for 29 per cent of Covid-19 infections compared to Gauteng province’s 26 per cent, as of Monday.

According to health officials, within one week of relaxing the lockdown restrictions, which included the unbanning of alcohol sales, the Western Cape’s intensive care and high care wards are at maximum capacity.

Dr Saadiq Kariem from the Western Cape’s health department said on Monday that the province had 39,000 active Covid-19 cases, and about 2,500 new cases were being recorded daily. There are approximately 320 related daily hospital admissions and 100 deaths.

KwaZulu-Natal province, which saw the worst of the looting and violence two weeks ago, has also recorded a major spike in infections that is being attributed to the unrest. On Monday it had recorded 1,975 new cases over the previous 24 hours - the biggest single-day increase since January.