After the British & Irish Lions secured a 22-17 win in the first Test, expect the Springboks to take the tourists to another level on Saturday
South Africa v Lions Second Test Preview
So, the first Test has been played amidst blood and thunder, with the British & Irish Lions 2021 team rising from the abyss of a 12-3 half-time deficit to claim a 22-17 win.
The last time they lost a Test series after winning the opener was against Australia back in 2001. However, if the series follows the patterns of the last tour in 2009, the Springboks still have another level of physicality they can reach.
Twelve years ago, their 25-22 win in the second Test at Loftus Versfeld went down in rugby lore as one of the most attritional matches ever played. In 2021, a wounded South Africa are liable to come out like caged lions of their own making.
If the Lions win, they will have won a Test series in South Africa for the first time since 1997 – and for only the third time since 1896. Warren Gatland would become only the second coach, alongside Sir Ian McGeechan, to have led two winning Lions tours.
Last week, South Africa were the dominant side in the first half. They had the scrum advantage, although not decisively, and managed to disrupt Luke Cowan-Dickie’s lineouts. The Lions were on the wrong side of both the penalty and error count, while their carriers struggled to make any meaningful metres with ball in hand.
One minute before half-time, Robbie Henshaw made the tourists’ first clean break, escaping upfield on a 40-metre gallop. Although Willie le Roux’s excellent strip-tackle ensured nothing came of it, the break was the catalyst the Lions needed. They scored through a rolling maul four minutes after half-time, while their replacements and tactical kicking forced South Africa into an ill-disciplined second-half performance.
Despite several contentious decisions – including Hamish Watson escaping a card for tip-tackling le Roux – the Lions comfortably won the second half 19-5.
It sets the scene beautifully for the second Test. Each side has a blueprint they can follow towards success – but equally found themselves tactically outfought for long passages of the game. With the Springboks thought to have an edge in the physicality stakes, but the Lions appearing a fitter team, can South Africa take the game away from the Lions early and avoid the ignominy of a series defeat?
What’s the team news?
Both sides have made three changes. Despite probably having the scrum advantage in the first half, South Africa have changed both props – with Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe coming in for Ox Nché and Trevor Nyakane respectively.
Nché’s absence is injury-enforced – after the loosehead impressed in attack as well as the set-piece – but Nyakane’s omission is a slight surprise, after irking Rory Sutherland at the scrum. The Bulls prop will cover loosehead from the bench, having started at tighthead last week.
The other Springbok changes come in the back row. Kwagga Smith looked outgunned last weekend, having made 13 carries – 30% of the South African forwards’ total – but for only 35 metres. He was also targeted by the Lions under the high ball, which his head coach Jacques Nienaber took responsibility for, saying that he “hung him out to dry”.
The more explosive Jasper Wiese comes into the side at No 8, and his story is a remarkable one. He left South Africa after he couldn’t crack the Cheetahs XV, joining Leicester in 2020 after making only 15 appearances for his home province. The Lions tour felt as far away as his Northern Cape home.
However, after finishing as the Midlands club’s top try-scorer last season, and dominating opposition teams with his carrying and tackling, Wiese was called up by Nienaber after only one season of regularly starting at professional level. On the bench, Marco van Staden and Smith provide back-row options as South Africa move to their famed six-two spilt. Rynhardt Elstadt misses out.
Warren Gatland and his staff called selection for the second Test tough, but the New Zealander expects his team to improve from a first Test in which the result flattered their first-half performance.
The headline call is the reinstatement of Conor Murray to the Test nine shirt. The Irishman had been named tour captain after Alun Wyn Jones’s shoulder dislocation, but the return of Jones and form of Scotland’s Ali Price saw Murray begin the first Test on the bench.
It is harsh on Price, whose box kicking was accurate throughout, especially as he wasn’t provided with steady ball for long periods of the match, inhibiting his trademark snipes. However, Murray’s game management was exemplary after he came on, with experience surely one of Gatland’s prerogatives here.
Similarly, three-time tourist Mako Vunipola comes into the side at loosehead. Gatland revealed that Vunipola came into camp “not fit enough for international rugby”, but his performances off the bench have been full of dynamism. Despite probably being the third-best scrummaging option on the left-hand side, he dealt brilliant with the anvil-like Malherbe in the second half – the two will now resume their duel in the starting jerseys.
In the backs, Chris Harris comes in for Elliot Daly, whose cards were marked by the Springbok defence throughout. One exuberant hit by Lukhanyo Am on the Saracens centre embodied this. The Englishman was named amongst the replacements, dropping Liam Williams out of the squad, while Hamish Watson has been replaced by Taulupe Faletau.
Dan Biggar continues as the starting fly-half ahead of Owen Farrell – but the Welshman still has to pass HIA protocols before taking the field on Saturday.
What have the coaches said?
Rhetoric has run rampant during the week, with South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus causing mischief on Twitter.
He has drawn attention to refereeing decisions, has criticised Mako Vunipola for pulling an apparently stricken Cheslin Kolbe off the floor and has retweeted a mysterious account called Jaco Johan.
This pre-match aggro has become almost de rigeur in Lions series, but the head coaches of each side have been far more circumspect.
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber: “This is a massive game for us; it is do or die in order to stay in the race to win the series. We selected a team that offers continuity in selection, but also that we thought would be the best suited to achieve the objectives we have set for this match.”
On the TMO decisions: “I completely agree with and trust the decisions they made. That is their profession, that is what they are good at.
“Sometimes those inches go for you and you score a brilliant try from a counter-attack and sometimes it goes against you.”
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland: “We know the Springboks will be hurting and they’ll throw everything at us on Saturday, but I think there’s plenty more to come from us too.
“It’s the biggest game on the tour and we have to embrace the expectation that comes with it. As players and coaches, these are the games you want to be involved in.
“We’re relishing the opportunity to face the Springboks again on Saturday and potentially seal a series win.”
On first Test Man of the Match Maro Itoje: “I thought it was an excellent performance. I made a joke that it was the first time in 360-odd games that Maro Itoje hadn’t given away a penalty.
“I kind of found in the past he has chased lost causes and gone after things that he didn’t need to do and probably wasted a lot of energy.
“But I thought on Saturday his decision-making over when to go after something – counter-ruck or a breakdown, lineout stuff – was outstanding. So for me that was probably the best I’d seen him play in any kind of jersey. I thought we saw an incredibly mature performance last weekend.”
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
South Africa v Lions Second Test, Saturday 31 July, Cape Town Stadium
The match kicks off at 5pm (BST) and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports, with highlights to follow on Channel 4. Or you can listen to live commentary on talkSPORT.
If you’re outside the UK, here’s the TV info you need.
Who is the referee?
Refereeing appointments – or more specifically, TMO appointments – have been a source of controversy. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, South African Marius Jonker will be the TMO for each of the three Test matches – much to Gatland’s ire.
After Jonker made some controversial decisions in the first Test, Rassie Erasmus sprung to his countryman’s defence.
“I was baffled when Marius was appointed as the TMO. But when he was mentioned because he is South African, and how he is refereeing his team, that didn’t sit well with me to be honest with you.
“Last year in the Rugby Championship, New Zealand and Australia played against each other with New Zealand and Australian referees. That’s the way things happen with Covid.”
New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe will have the whistle for the second Test. The 32-year-old was the youngest referee at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and is a trained ophthalmologist, so should be good at spotting indiscretions!
Erasmus had some more words of his own to add to the Jonker saga: “If Ben O’Keeffe does the wrong decisions on Saturday, you won’t have us saying it’s because he is a New Zealander and Warren Gatland is a New Zealander.”
What are the line-ups?
South Africa: Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jasper Wiese.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Damian Willemse.
British & Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg; Anthony Watson, Chris Harris, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Taulupe Faletau, Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.
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