Stephen Ferris on the highs and lows for the Lions in South Africa
The Lions played the Sharks last Saturday in what was a repeat of the Wednesday game. Lots of people started asking questions about the credibility of the tour due to the cancelation of fixtures, Covid outbreaks, and just down to how badly South Africa has been hit by this pandemic.
However, this tour rolls on, and with both the Lions and Springboks having relatively healthy squads, we will hopefully have no more bumps in the road so this tour can be completed.
Less than a week ago the Lions played a Sharks side that knew what was coming. The Sharks, off the back of a scalping, dug their heels in for the first 40 minutes, and the scoreboard reflected this with the two sides tied 26-26.
There was a moment of madness from the Sharks scrumhalf early in the second half. Jaden Hendrikse elbowed Liam Williams for no reason and found himself red carded straight after the interval. If there was any hope of this Sharks team shocking the world and beating the Lions, it was surely gone now. The Lions smelt blood and turned on the afterburners in the second half. Tries from Jack Conan, Elliot Daily, Jamie George, Anthony Watson, Tadgh Beirne and Tom Curry made sure there was no way back for the Sharks. The game ended 71-31 and the British and Irish Lions continued to roar in South Africa.
“South Africa A’s physicality and aggression was breathtaking”
That Lions roar got a little quieter when the teams were announced for the South Africa ‘A’ fixture. This ‘A’ team was full of Rugby World Cup winners from 2019, and no doubt at least 10 of these players will be starting the 1st test for South Africa on the 24th July. I can understand why it was such a strong team. The South Africans have played very little rugby together over the last year. A couple of warm ups against poor opposition is not the way to prepare for the Lions coming to town and they needed some of their big game players to get valuable game time at a high intensity.
The first 20 minutes of the match was a magnificent watch if you were a South African fan. The physicality and aggression that was on display by this ‘A’ side was breathtaking. Every time a Lions player touched the ball they were swallowed up by two or three South Africans and driven back from where they came from. The Boks had set the tone.
It was backs against the walls for the Lions
One of the first really good attacking positions for the Lions saw Owen Farrell try a chip kick across field which was charged down by the towering Eben Etzebeth. A quick pick up from Damien De Allende and an easy pass to his winger Nkosi saw the flying South African winger run 60m to touch down for the first try of the game. And just like that the British and Irish Lions found themselves 10-0 down after only thirteen minutes.
We know that Cheslin Kolbe has magic in his feet and he can make a fool out of any defender when given the time and space. A loose kick by Elliot Daily saw Kolbe gather around the halfway line. When Chris Harris went to line Kolbe up, the little magician goose stepped on the outside of his man, then threw a dummy which held the Lions winger Rees-Zammit, and finished off this unbelievable piece of play with a sumptuous off load to his captain Lukhanyo Am, who crashed over for a brilliant counter attacking try. The Lions’ backs were now firmly against the wall.
Penalty after penalty by the Boks say the Lions pummell their try line in the lead up to halftime. But ‘you shall not pass’ was the message by the men in green, and even with 13 men the South African ‘A’ team held strong. Physiologically this was a major blow to the Lions who walked off the pitch with their heads down after the half time siren sounded.
With the numerical advantage, the Lions continued to press in the second half. They finally got their just rewards when Wyn Jones bulldozed his way over from a yard out. Was the comeback now on, could the Lions turn this game on its head…?
With the South Africans tiring badly and the wind firmly in the Lions sails it looked like the comeback was well and truly on. But these South Africans aren’t World Cup winners for nothing, and they know how to close out big games even when they are not firing on all cylinders. Reverting back to the kicking game and playing for field position as much as possible was the message from South African head coach, Rassie Erasmus. The message was executed well by his players as they ran out victorious with a 17-13 win. Now surely this defeat has Warren Gatland questioning a few things… or does it?
Expect a reaction from the Lions on Saturday
Another game down and another one to be played this Saturday against the Stormers in Cape Town. With the weather set to be perfect you would expect the ball to be thrown around and for many of the Lions players to get their name on the score sheet once again. The Stormers are a similar level to the Sharks and Sigma Lions who got trounced by the British and Irish Lions over the last couple of weeks. It certainly won’t be the same level of competition that they faced on Wednesday night against South Africa ‘A’.
A front row of Rory Sutherland, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tadgh Furlong will undoubtedly give the Lions a very secure set piece platform to launch their attacks. Young Marcus Smith who has just landed in South Africa after a late call up will be implementing the Lions game plan and I can’t wait to see how he performs on the big stage. Josh Adams who is just a try scoring machine comes back on to the wing, and alongside him in the back three is Van Der Merwe and captain Stuart Hogg. It’s another exciting lineup and I’m confident the scoreline will be similar to the first couple of games the Lions played in South Africa.
We should see a reaction from the British and Irish Lions after their midweek loss. You can catch the game on Sky Sports 1, Stan Sport, and Super Sport on Saturday evening, with kick-off at 17:00.