Cheslin Kolbe showed why he is regarded as the best player in the world as he brilliantly set up Lukhanyo Am’s try as South Africa ’A’ beat the British and Irish Lions in Cape Town.
CAPE TOWN – While it is always pleasing to win a game of rugby, Springbok bosses Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will take more out of the commendable performance than the 17-13 victory for South Africa ’A’ against the British and Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday night.
Cheslin Kolbe dazzled once more and showed why he is regarded as the best player in the world with an audacious piece of individual skill, but we all know that.
What was important for Erasmus and Nienaber was to gauge the physical and rugby readiness of the South African players ahead of next Saturday’s first Test at the same venue, and they would’ve returned to their hotel in a good mood.
Both teams were evenly matched – not quite full-strength Test outfits, but with enough first-choice players and contenders to make it a meaningful encounter. In fact, you could argue that the Lions were the stronger side.
The visitors have faced Japan, the Johannesburg Lions and the Sharks twice before Wednesday, while the South Africans only took on Georgia on July 2.
So, with Erasmus acting as a waterboy on the sidelines, the cohesion and determination displayed by the home side was eye-catching. The forwards, with Eben Etzebeth at his menacing best, landed some heavy blows upfront. They carried the ball strongly around the corner and mauled well from the line-outs, while they also recovered from a few early scrum infringements to create a solid set-piece platform.
The Lions, on the other hand, surprisingly looked like a team lacking organisation and creativity on attack. They were met by a fierce SA ’A’ defence that harried them into mistakes, and tried to slow the game down at times.
In contrast, the South Africans were off to a flying start, with Sbu Nkosi nearly dotting down within five minutes, only to be denied by the TMO due to a foot in touch.
Owen Farrell did not provide the necessary spark at flyhalf, and he was the cause of the opening try when Etzebeth charged-down his chip kick, with the impressive Damian de Allende keeping his cool to put Nkosi away for the five-pointer.
While Farrell eventually replied with a penalty to make it 10-3 after 28 minutes, the moment of the match came soon after, courtesy of Bok magician Kolbe. The No 14 fielded a Lions kick near the halfway line and casually ran it up before leaving Chris Harris and Louis Rees-Zammit for dead with a famous side-step that was reminiscent of the one from the 2019 Rugby World Cup final on Farrell.
In fact, it was even better, and Kolbe fed his captain Lukhanyo Am on the inside to finish off.
The Lions got things together close to half-time, which saw the SA ’A’ side making tackle after tackle, which led to yellow cards to Faf de Klerk and Marco van Staden.
But the home side maintained their shape and held on for a 17-3 half-time lead.
The visitors started with greater vigour in the second half, and were rewarded for their endeavour when prop Wyn Jones forced his way over.
The South Africans seemed to run out of steam the longer the game went on, but they deserve credit for scrambling superbly in defence to deny the Lions.
Rees-Zammit thought he had dotted down in the left-hand corner, but was penalised by referee Jaco Peyper for a double movement in the act of scoring with 20 minutes left.
Morné Steyn, who marshalled things in a typically cool manner at flyhalf, missed a long-range penalty, but it didn’t prove too costly in the end.
The Lions kept pushing for the winning try, but could not breach the SA A trenches, and coach Warren Gatland will be concerned about the bench power ahead of the first Test against the Springboks.
South Africa ’A’ 17 – Tries: Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalty: Steyn (1).
British and Irish Lions 13 – Try: Wyn Jones. Conversion: Owen Farrell (1). Penalties: Farrell (2).