South Africa 26 – British & Irish Lions 21
This is a game that had it all: an unbelievable crowd, a charged atmosphere, drama and excitement, heroes and villains, scrum battles that ebbed and flowed, inches (or centimetres in the new age) and a team that won a huge amount of possession and played the majority of game in the opposition half, but lost the match.
Funny old game. It was split into two parts. For the first two thirds of the match it was the Boks all the way. They dominated the set piece and mauls, won all their own ball and took the chances offered to them when they were down the Lions end. They smashed the Brits in the early scrums, turning over four and in the process I’d say ended the career of Phil Vickery . The possession they won they put to good use, but often they went to the air which resulted in giving a fair bit of ball away, hence the lop-sided statistic. The good news for them was that it won them the match.
The game actually looked to be all over early in the second half with the Boks leading by 26-7. Then coach de Villiers must have had a brainstorm: “Why don’t we take off all our good players and save them for next week?” Off went Brussow (who was having a blinder securing their ball at the breakdown), Botha, Jacobs, du Preez, Smit, The Beast (more of him later) etc etc. That’s when it all turned crapper. The disruption of all these changes left the Bokkies a bit disorganised and allowed the Lions back into the game.
Consequently, the Brits dominated the last 25 odd minutes and clawed back to 26-21 by some expansive play and deserved tries. It ended up a close run thing for the Boks , which is not how it should have been. To be fair, the Springboks were running out of juice having to make more than double the number of tackles the Lions did and not having the same level of match fitness.
The crowd: you remember the Gabba in 2001….sea of red, loads of singing and support, like we were back in the old dart? That was ABSA Stadium in Durban yesterday, except there were probably another 10,000 Brits there having a jolly old time. Talk about atmosphere, you just don’t get that playing the Eyties in Melbourne. The Brit crowd was very vocal prior to the match but was a bit restrained during the first half and only really came to life as the Lions finally got their act together later in the game. You could even hear ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’…..
Heroes and villains: The Beast – nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more. He was a snorting colossus and has ARRIVED. He absolutely smashed Vickery in the process of establishing himself in the world loosehead order as the new Myth. Watch out Le Fuse and assorted Benny’s. There were a couple of villains. For the poms, paddy’s and boyos (it was a jock free zone) it was Vickery.
In the process of being popped and monstored by the Beast, Vickery gave away a load of scrum and other penalties which, in the new age, are all long arm and some resulted in points. He met his Waterloo in the 45th minute when Geech pulled him off and sent on one of the ‘hair bears’ Adam Jones. The Welshman immediately stabilised the scrum and played himself into next week’s side. In fact, later in the match when the Bokkie changes had been made, their scrum went backwards. It’s all about mechanics you know!
The game started in the best possible way for the Springboks. After an attacking scrum in the corner and a couple of phases, John Smit rumbled over next to the posts. It all looked a bit ominous but there was an immediate response from the Lions with Ugo Monye crossing in the corner. Unfortunately, Jean de Villiers wrapped his arm underneath the ball and prevented the try. It took the Frog TMO a while to convince Bryce Lawrence that (1) he could speak English, and (2) this is actually what happened, and (3) he got it wrong anyway – it should have been a 22 drop out, not a 5 metre scrum to the Lions. Fortunately, Bryce was in the zone and eventually worked it out. Looking forward to the Japanese TMO next time.
A couple of Bok penalties took the score to 13-0 (Pienaar and Steyn – the latter for the longer kicks) and then a good half break by Roberts with a great off load to BO’D. Croft was on on his shoulder and this resulted in a very good try, converted by Jones. 13-7 and game-on. The halftime score was 19-7 after another couple of penalties, with Vickery really starting to piss the ref off. ‘I’m going to the pocket’ next time I think was the refrain, or something like that. Lee Byrne, who had defended manfully at the rear, was replaced by Kearney due to injury.
The Bokkies completely dominated the opening stanza in the second half. They stole Lions lineout ball like a ‘tea leaf’ in The Bill and, in another highlight, mauled 30m upfield to set up a great attacking position. A subsequent maul from a lineout resulted in a Brussow try. That’s when the Bok substitutes started coming on and the game turned. In the 71st minute Monye had the try line open but Morne Steyn knocked the ball out in a George Gregan ‘that tackle’ moment.
The Lions then responded with a Philips ‘no try’ after he was tackled just inches from the line. After some good expansive play and pressure Croft went over for his second try. There was a plethora of penalties awarded to the Lions as they attacked in wave after wave. The Brits were not taking kicks but looking for the try option. Philips scored after sniffing a gap at a ruck close to the try line. Jones converted and26-21 was the final scoreline.
I thought the Lions were a reasonable shot for this game. In my view, this was their best opportunity for the series. They were in the match at the end but the Springboks should have comfortably won after such a great lead. For the Boks, who said John Smit was going to be the weak link? He had a powerful game and with du Plessis and The Beast were unstoppable. In fact, the tight five and Brussow won the game for them. The lineout and scrum were superb (the latter until the changes were made). In the backs, Pienaar controlled it well and the Steyn fullback experiment worked, albeit shakily at times.
For the Lions, Gethin Jenkins and O’Connell worked hard but their loosies (Wallace and Heaslip in particular) were anonymous. Mike Roberts was the standout back with Monye always looking for work. Kearney also looked exciting when he came on. However, the Lions man of the match would have to be Tom Croft – his support play was outstanding.
What can the Lions do next week? Adam Jones, Martyn Williams and maybe a No 8 option. Stephen Jones took the ball to the line a lot but was always covered – he looked a bit pedestrian actually. Maybe RO’G ? My advice is to recruit Kobus Wiese at tighthead. Did you see him interviewing the Beast after the match? He made him look like Luke Burgess. Man mountain – Max Headroom!