Well this little Prop just could not sleep because his thoughts were way too deep, his mind had gone out for a stroll and fallen down the rabbit hole… I write this after watching the end to end, 8x try expression of exuberance and joy at Eden Park that, whilst the good guys lost to the denizens of Mordor yet again, did prove that smart running rugby is alive and well if you want to play it.
But here we are for what feels like almost a completely different sport. We are in Cape Town for the Decider, the Breaker, the Maker, the Be All & End All of the next 12yrs in bragging rights between the Japies and the Billy Boys… but I just can’t get excited. I fear this will be bombs on boxes on bombs into no mans land; in the eloquence of Fat Bastard himself, utter crap.
The first test was a contest to see who would not lose more. And the BIL’s wanted to lose less in snatching a 22-17 win dominated by boxes, bombs and penalty kicks. Boring but not unexpected. The 2nd test was NFL-esque with every turn of grass resulting in a TMO adjudication that took longer than a Trump spray-tan session but eventually saw the Japies overcoming a 6-9 oranges deficit to win 27-9 based on more boxes, bombs and penalty shots. So gee wizz I wonder what tonight will bring eh?.
Seriously, God Forbid someone actually runs the ball aside from Piggy-pod-bashes, or plays with a wee bit of derring-do or creativity… About the best thing that could happen in this game would be two things; 3rd Grade Kick Rules (you kick it, you get it back, or you owe beers) and a good old-fashioned punch-on from the kick-off to clear the air, settle the nerves and get some folk into the groove.
But anyways, Bokke Coach Jacques Nienaber has made two changes to his aptly named ‘Bomb Squad’. De Faf is de out and duToit is de-out looking for B2 and leaving the door ajar for wee Cobus Reinach whilst Lewd JagerBomb who pushes Monster Mostert sideways into duToit’s No7 jersey. What is interesting is that this week we have a 5-3 bench vs the more Bokke-traditional 6-2 (and sometimes even 7-1). Now normally you may think an extra Back would mean some running. But no. The extra Back is monster-boot Morne ‘The Sniper’ Steyn hoping to repeat his kick-driven series win from 2009. So calm your enthusiasms fellas.
Comparatively, Warren ‘Yeh me and Fitzy are mates’ Gatland is being somewhat bold in bringing Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Bundee Aki, Ken Owens and Wyn Jones in for their first starts of the series. Amongst that, Ali Price swaps with Conor Murray at 9, while Welsh Lock Adam Beard, English Loosie Sam Simmonds and The Wee Scot Russell are introduced to the bench. Gats may be going to try and run a bit. Maybe.
Anyways… Emfazweni! France’s 39yr old Mathieu Raynal blew time-on and BIL10 Biggar nudged a No2 straight up the middle for a spectacular Bokke7 Mostert catch to be Bokke-boxed back to the Lions… here we go with more of the same… until Bokke gave a way the 1st penalty of the day with an offside at the Bokke 10m/15m resulting in a 43m kick at goal after 2.30min. BIL10 Biggar pushed the shot left and the resulting Bokke drop-out was bombed & boxed both ways until the BIL gave away a high-tackle on the Bokke quarter. The relieving Bokke punt pushed the lineout to the BIL 10m and the first real opportunity for the Bokke was fluffed by a not-straight throw from Bokke2 Bongi. The subsequent first scrum was unstable but won by the BIL who set about Piggy bashing the halfway line. Strong defence by the Bokke belted the BIL back to their 10m and Price duly boxed which was bombed back by LeRoux for a BIL lineout on their own 10m… Already this is boring box/bomb/ruck-bashing…
At yet another interminable bomb-catch-ruck-box combo and the BIL let the ball roll too far in the ruck so-allowing Bokke4 Etzebeth (who it must be said has had a massive series), to sneakily kill the pill and force a Bokke scrum feed midway between the BIL 8m & quarter about 10m infield. Bokke12 DeAllende in his 50th test made the gain line with ease as then did hard-running Bokke7 Mostert. Now running under offside advantage, the Bokke were knocking on the BIL quarter line but overenthusiastic hands led to a knock-on by Bokke2 Mbonambi. So the penalty was called and Bokke10 Pollard lined up midfield on the BIL quarter for a shot at 10.30min. Duly slotted for 3-0 Bokke at 11min.
BIL10 Biggar kickoff was remarkably well-taken in the air by Bokke13 Luke ‘the Force’ AM and we settled into mutual bombing & boxing again until an offside penalty to BIL on halfway broke the malaise. The lineout was pinned 5m short of the Bokke quarter. BIL2 FarKenOaths 2nd throw to the series-struggling BIL lineout was left to wait when a short-arm (Bokke closing early) went to a BIL scrum instead. The scrum was dead-set dug in Somme-esque and the pressure in there was cartilage busting to be sure. Resets followed and eventually the BIL won a hard-fought penalty for Bokke1 Getcha Kits-off dropping his bind under BIL3 Furlong pressure. BIL22 The Wee Scot Russell (who has replaced Biggar) lined up the shot and it’s 3-3 at 16min.
Off the kickoff The Wee Scot Russell inspired Lions ran from their own quarter to almost the Bokke quarter (what?!?! Who brought William Web Ellis to the soccer?!?) when a penalty allowed the BIL to jag a lineout throw on the Bokke 5m – their best shot for a try yet. BIL2 FarKenOath found a no-jump Itoje at the front and the resulting maul rumbled over cleanly with BIL2 FarKenOath earning the ubiquitous Hookers try at 18.30min. Fin Russell nudged over the 2 and it’s 10-3 BIL at 20.30min. Hello… a try? In less than 5min on-field Fin Russell has proved a revelation.
Kick-off, box, bomb blah blah blah until a Bokke kick obstruction allowed the BIL to force a penalty lineout deep into the Bokke half. But the BIL lineout>maul was held up and driven backwards for the Bokke to be awarded a scrum feed on the Bokke 10metre. Here we thankfully see the Ref hunting the waterboys off the field… Aimless kicking generated a Bokke lineout on halfway which resulted in a Bokke penalty and the Japies lineout duly set just outside the BIL quarter. DeJager-Bomb won cleanly and ruthless Bokke pod bashing only saw Pollard bomb (again…) and BIL defuse to move to a clearing kick. But a nice Etzebeth charge-down forced the BIL lineout inside the BIL quarter. Again the BIL close the lineout gap early and Referee Raynal short-armed the pressure away. Pollards bomb was regathered by the resident mercenary BIL11 Duhan van der Merwe who had a great dash and worked up to well inside the Bokke half with ball in hand and earnt a penalty on the Bokke 10m line which BIL22 Fin Russell punched to touch and enabled another 5m BIL lineout throw. FarKenOath found Itoje and it was looking good for the BIL to score lineout try no2 but BIL7 Curry got well offside in the maul and blew the chance.
The Bokke blew the lineout from the relieving penalty and gave the BIL’s a scrum midway between the Bokke 10m and quarter. A stable scrum saw BIL13 Henshaw make the gain-line and then Itoje carried hard again to set the scene for a promising raid. But a strong ruck steal by Bokke12 DeAllende won the penalty and the resulting Bokke lineout on halfway was short-armed for the BIL again for closing the gap (clearly a thing with this Ref – that’s 3x). The Bokke bomb was fumbled by the Bokke just outside the BIL quarter and so the pressure appeared off. But the BIL scrum feed and poor strike saw a massive Bokke shunt ensue wherein Bokke3 Frans MalHerbe well-worked over BIL1 Wyn Jones. The resulting penalty to the Bokke saw Pollard slot his 500th points for the Bokke to make the score 10-6 BIL at 36min.
BIL22 The Wee Scot Russells long/right kick saw Bokke12 DeAllende bash back and Tom Curry stole a great turnover penalty (serves DeAllande right for daring to run the ball) for Russell to nudge the ball into the corner and set-up a great chance for the BIL lineout… only for Etzebeth to steal the lineout but for then Bokke2 Bongi to knock-on and give the BIL a scrum-feed on the Bokke 5metre. This scrum is crucial. Will the BIL scrum hold up? The BIL held for a quick No1 scrum-feed and successive piggy bashing saw the play ruck-crab across field until a massive over-ball steal by Bokke6 Kolisi earned the penalty right under the sticks and on the air-raid siren for halftime the penalty lineout was taken on the Bokke quarter with the Etzebeth lineout win and maul going nowhere and so oranges were blown with the score at 10-6 to the Billy Boys.
Iiorenji – with only 1 try scored and that off a driving lineout it’s hardly a free-running affair. But to be fair, The Wee Scot Russell is really trying to open up play with some creative distribution. This is reflected in the numbers with possession and field position both favouring BIL by almost 2:1. Against that the Bokke are doing what works for them with boa-constrictor forward play, brutal defence, strong set-piece and a squadron of waterboys at every stoppage slowing everything down. So whilst Etzebeth has been huge for the Bokke I find myself favouring the BIL for actually trying to play some rugby off the back of BIL22 Fin ‘the wee Scot’ Russell. The Ref is taking no crap at set-piece but the Bokke had the better of the set-piece so-far and that emerging dominance will only increase as the replacements flow.
Isiqingatha sesibini saw Pollard nudge kick No2 right and ruck-bash & box & bomb ensue. Fumbles created a Bokke scrum midway between the BIL 10m and quarter on about the 5m lineout line and BIL1 Wyn Jones hinged badly in the scrum to give the Bokke a penalty. The guy is clearly hurt. The resulting lineout was set inside the BIL quarter. The Bokke driving maul was ugly and so the Japies went to ruck-bashing crabbing cross-field. But strong Lions defence saw the Bokke losing ground. A dozen Bokke ruck-bashing phases still went no-where leading to a Pollard frustration-chip which was charged down and tumbled to touch for a Bokke lineout. That defensive effort was a massive show of intent and courage by the BIL as the collisions were felt over 11,000kms away in my lounge-room.
Somewhere in there Big BIL17 Makka-Pakka Maco Vunipola duly replaced the clearly hobbling Wyn Jones after that last scrum. The Bokke4 Etzebeth lineout win saw no-drive but straight to Kolisi and DeAllende hammering the BIL quarter line wherein a late BIL7 Curry strip gave Hollard the penalty shot from in-front. Poetic-justice reigned as the shot bounced off the left side upright and the BIL regathered to work the ball upfield and a smart box kick saw a Bokke tumbled to touch and a BIL lineout on around their own 10m line. FarKenOath found Lawes at the front but the Lions Fairies fumbled and the Bokke set for a scrum just inside the BIL 10m line at 50minutes. Some huge Bokke scrum pressure only drew resets for free-kicks for resets and the Bokke advantage at set-piece is starting to build. But once the ball is in-play the BIL are swarming the breakdown and are playing the better rugby.
In back play Bokke14 Cheslin Cry-Bokke-Kolbe is on the ground auditioning for Bollywood and was successful in milking a penalty for copping an arm around the face from BIL13 Henshaw (I think). The Bokke were baying for a yellow but rightfully only got the penalty. So up stepped Pollard for a 3pt shot from about 40m out on the 5m line infield. Again poetic justice saw it miss and the drop-out resulting. Some mutual box & bomb drew the Bokke back-3 out of position and a smart Russell raking punt-punch drew a BIL lineout deep in the Bokke half after LeRoux had to scramble back and rush his clearance.
Replacements flowed with Bokke16 MadMarx and Bokke18 Vinny ‘Mr Incredible’ Koch rolling out and everyone knew the BIL scrum is now about to go through the wringer.
Clean BIL lineout win on the Bokke 10m fed an BIL12 Akee crash ball which only saw the BIL go backwards in successive rucks. Poor & panicked Lions handling of their own bomb then saw a fantastic bit of Bokke counter-attack from the Bokke 10metres with MyPimpy to LeRoux for a draw & pass to Kry-Bokke-Kolbe who danced 35-40metres and through 3 missed cover-tackles to score a great try completely out of the blue. After near 10min and 53 different angles of review the try was confirmed and Pollard lined up for the conversion. Successful. 13-10 to the Bokke at 57min.
See?!? People can play running rugby!!!
The kick-off box and bomb exchange saw the BIL take a mark inside their quarter. More bomb & box saw a hard-grubber from Kry-Bokke-Kolbe fumbled and a Bokke scrum set just outside the BIL quarter line. And now on comes my man BIL18 Kylie Sinkler… and my favourite scrumming red head Getcha Kitsoff is quietly smiling…
Sinkler duly buckles in the scrum but somehow Referee Raynal awarded the penalty to the BIL claiming Kits-Off hinged. It’s a garbage call and the replay showed Sinkler clearly dropping. But anyway, the BIL lineout on the Bokke 10m was well won by Itoje and BIL ruck-bashing pod-running ensued. A high-shot penalty against Bokke8 Wiese resulted in giving The Wee Scot Russell a chance to shoot for a 13-13 all score at 63min from near in-front. And so it goes.
The midfield kick-off and subsequent pod-running saw an offside penalty to the BIL who drove a lineout opportunity deep into the Bokke half. But the chance was blown with BIL offside at the ruck (Curry again) after the maul and more replacements flowed amongst which was Bokke22 Morne ‘The Sniper’ Styne replacing Bokke15 LeRoux. The Bokke lineout on the BIL 10m line was double-dip penalty rewarded after the BIL’s dropped the maul and like clockwork Sniper-Styne calls for the tee to take a 43m shot from wide right (near on the 5m line). Sniper-Styne’s shot rewarded the faith shown as he slots his 739th point for the Bokke-Boys and so makes it 16-13 Bokke at 66min.
Kick-off, ruck, bombs et al saw the BIL’s win some ball in-hand and start knocking on the Bokke quarter with straight runner after straight runner for near 12 phases. But the Bokke defence holds true until a silly Etzebeth slapping hand on a 9 clearance gave the BIL a penalty which was pushed to a lineout on the Bokke 5m line. To be frank Etzy is lucky that wasn’t a yellow for deliberate and cynical killing of attacking play. That said, a clean BIL lineout win was quick-sacked by Monster-Mash Mostert and the subsequent ruck pounding saw Makka-Pakka Vunipola being held-up over the tryline.
The resulting 5metre scrum to the BIL feels like the hinge point of the whole series. If the BIL scrum holds it’s a real chance for The Wee Scot Russell to craft a try and steal the series. So it’s a real moment for BIL18 Kylie Sinkler as replacement Bokke17 Trevor Nyakane lines him up… and as expected Sinkler drops to his knees, chews grass and is correctly penalised for what in New Zealand would be charged as soliciting surely. Sniper-Styne clears to the lineout which Monster-Mostert wins cleanly and a well-pumped Big Trev Nyakane is huge in driving the maul upfield. However a Bokke fumble saw BIL13 Henshaw break-back against the play and run the ball well back inside the Bokke half drawing a brain-snap Bokke13 Luke ‘The Force’ Am ruck penalty. The Wee Scot Russell took the penalty shot from about 40m and duly slotted to make it 16-16 at 75min.
Bokke kickoff, BIL boxed, Bokke boxed to BIL quarter and BIL’s kicked long. After a heart-in-mouth Sniper-Styne fumble saw the ball grounded in-goal and the resulting Bokke 22 drop-out drew a BIL knock-on on about halfway relieving the pressure. Scrum and Bokke pod running pushed to well into the BIL half and a BIL hands in the ruck gave the Bokke Sniper-Styne a 3pt shot from the Vodaphone comma, maybe 35metres out and near-enough to in-front.
Duly slotted by Sniper-Styne makes it 19-16 Bokke at the 79th minute mark.
The Wee Scot Russells kick-off was a crafty No1-short and BIL13 Henshaw bravely went up to tip back to Itoje to set up BIL pod-runners just off the Bokke 10m line. But successive BIL pod-bashing running was going nowhere until an indeterminate ruck awarded to the BIL sets-up the last chance scrum for the BIL. Everyone knows this is hinging on the BIL scrum being able to stand up and give the BIL a last shot to play on…
…and the BIL scrum fails.
From the resulting scrum penalty Sniper-Styne correctly taps the ball first then punt-clears to touch for Referee Raynal to blow the final pea and declare for the reigning World Champion Springboks to win the 3rd and series-deciding test 19-16.
Igorha eliGqwesileyo and Man of the Series for me was Eben Etzebeth closely followed by Henry Pollard. Itoje and Lawes were massive for the BIL and one has to wonder what may have been if The Wee Scot Russell had been given more than one outing. Officialdom gave the Oligorha to Kry-Bok-Kolbe which I find lamentable on so many levels.
ILizwi lokugqibela – empty stadiums, isolation bubbles, mind-blowing Trial by YouTube, endless box-kicks, bombs and fumbles all made me wonder if this series was worthwhile playing (or watching) while the world around it went mad. And such perspective was somewhat acknowledged by a dignified Allun WynJones in his post-match words. But be that as it may, it was played. What did it prove? It repeated the lessons of the World Cup that if both sides are fearing losing more than they want to win, then a well-structured defence is more powerful in the current environment than an enthusiastic attack even to the point that 65% possession and over 50% field position could not get the best of the Home Nations a victory. And again it proved that whilst a powerful scrum may not win you matches, a weak scrum – or at least props who can’t scrum – will cost you matches. Ignore that lesson at your peril at all levels of rugby. But in all seriousness, I think neither of those two sides would worry New Zealand or likely even the Wobblies at the moment – but those words will be tested soon enough.
Uxolo ngolwimi lwam.