As expected, the first Test between the Springboks and the Lions was hardly short of drama. Mike Greenaway looks at four talking points from the Test.
DURBAN – As expected, the first Test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions was hardly short of drama.
Mike Greenaway looks at some of the talking points from the tourists’ 22-17 win.
The bomb squad bombed out
The front row selection of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and especially Trevor Nyakane was under the spotlight all week but at half-time the critics were silenced. Nche had been superb, Bongi was very good as aways while Nyakane not only scrummed well but won some important turnovers.
The bomb squad of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe did not detonate when they came on. The mitigating circumstance would be that the Lions came out a different side after a half-time roasting from coach Gatland.
Big calls from the TMO
Let’s spare a prayer for poor Marius Jonker. He was always going to be under enormous pressure after Gatland had questioned his appointment when the original TMO, a New Zealander, could not travel because of Covid restrictions. Prior to kick-off, the Lions coach very cleverly wondered in the media if a South African TMO could be neutral …
Rugby is a game of inches and last night’s hard-fought Test proved that yet again.
— Springboks (@Springboks) July 25, 2021
Inevitably, Jonker was called on to make some massive calls, notably on whether Willie le Roux was marginally offside in the build-up to his (disallowed) try and then the legality of Hamish Watson’s tip tackle on Le Roux. Both of Jonker’s calls were beneficial to the Lions but to be fair, a neutral observer could not have found fault with the decisions.
Kolbe kept quiet by shrewd Lions
Quite rightly, Cheslin Kolbe was touted as the best attacking player in the world in the build-up to the game. The Lions said a top priority was to spike this lethal gun by denying it ammunition.
And they did, not one kick from the Lions went in his direction, but the Boks would have known this was going to happen, so why did they not plan other ways to utilise their most dangerous weapon? I have long banged the drum that Kolbe should start at fullback in place of Le Roux so that he gets more ball, and while I know that Rassie and Nienaber are not going to do it, I will keep banging away!
The Boks ran out of puff
Full credit to Siya Kolisi and Jacques Nienaber for refusing to blame the Covid-related disruptions for the Boks’ second-half fade out but it had to have played a role.
The Boks had a number of training sessions cancelled because of the outbreak in their camp, not to mention an actual Test match against Georgia, and a dozen of their players were constrained to their hotel rooms for 14 days.
How could this not have affected their ability to go the distance over 80 minutes? It did, and the Boks should be commended for the grit they showed in fronting up for as long as was physically possible.