Once the hurly-burly and the hour-long rants of Rassie Erasmus – akin to that of a Qanon member accusing Tom Hanks of being a paedophile – was done, the World Champions levelled the series against the tourists with a stomping 2nd half performance.
Within 90secs, Mako Vunipola – starting in place of Rory Sutherland – conceded an early penalty for not rolling away around the halfway line, which went to touch deep in the Lions’ 22.
The South African maul didn’t make much inroads but with the ball deemed unplayable the Boks were awarded the scrum put-in, and the first bout of fisticuffs broke out. Colossal locks Alun-Wyn Jones and Eben Etzebeth got a hold of each other, and the Lions’ captain seemed to have a lot to say.
The Bokke were awarded a free-kick at the scrum 10m which they took quickly, and Scottish debutant Chris Harris showed why he was brought in when he smashed Lukhanyo Am to the deck, but a few phases later Maro Itoje entered a ruck at the side. Handre Pollard slotted over the shot at goal.
Dan Biggar levelled the scores when South African no:8 Jasper Wiese was penalised for a no-arms tackle, and then the Lions managed to hold South Africa out after some good scramble defence from Duhan van der Merwe pushed the show-stopping, side-stepper, Cheslin Kolbe inside where he was thumped by Jack Conan.
Kolbe was slightly fortunate to both not be penalised or sparked out when he bounced his face off the much larger Tom Curry’s, but Lions already had penalty advantage for
Pollard missed a relatively easy shot at goal to level the scores and then suffered another blow when 2019 World Player of the Year, Peter Steph Du Toit, left the field injured, but then took a win when Duhan was yellow-carded for a trip on Kolbe.
The Bokke’s entry ticket to the Lions 22 was ripped up when their line-out was pinched, and when the Lions tried to work their way upfield, fisticuffs round 2 broke out when Kolbe recklessly clattered into Conor Murray as he leapt to claim a cross-kick, so Kolbe joined Duhan for a 10min go on Candy Crush. (Other time-wasting mobile games are available.)
Pollard levelled the scores when Stuart Hogg, who was covering the left-wing defensiely with Duhan off the field, got caught and Robbie Henshaw fouled at the breakdown, then the action shifted back towards the South African try-line.
A penalty well within Biggar’s kicking range went to touch as they knew Duhan was coming back on to make it 15-14. Etzebeth nicked the line-out but was snaffled behind the try-line by the relentless Maro Itoje. Advantage Lions again.
Robbie Henshaw was denied a try by Siya Kolisi brilliantly knocking the ball out the ball out his hand as he claimed Biggar’s up n under, but Biggar had rolled the dice with penalty advantage, so the potential 7-pointer became a 3-point gain for the Lions.
Over an hour after the match had kicked off, the half-time whistle finally blew.
Half-time: B&I Lions 9 – 6 South Africa
The home side claimed the first try of the match within 5mins of the restart, when Tadhg Furlong got penalised at the scrum.
They went to the right touchline, and after an aerial bomb which Hogg failed to claim, Pollard went across again when space was created for Makazole Mapimpi to take with ease and score his 15th international try.
Mapimpi then managed to clear the Lions to halfway and keep South Africa in the lead when Biggar hit the post with a penalty effort, a huge let-off for the hosts.
As with last week, this was “game on” territory, but could the Lions do what they did last week and dominate the last quarter?
Rory Sutherland, Ali Price and Owen Farrell came on, but just when they did so, Anthony Watson – who had been anonymous and left the aerial-bombs for Hogg – was penalised, and from the resulting penalty the Sprinkboks went back to their bread and butter.
They kicked to touch, mauled the face off the Lions to within a few metres, and with advantage went skywards from Pollard. Am applied downward pressure on the ball to score from De Klerk’s cheeky right-footed grubber between the Lions defensive line.
The budgie-smuggling scrum-half then injured his hip leading to Herschel Jantjies coming on, but cheap penalties conceded at mauls allowed the Boks to continue their charge up the field, and then another scrum pen gave Pollard the chance to make the score 21-9. He had missed a couple previously, but not this time.
The Bokke “Bomb Squad” had come on, and although it needed a pack reshuffle, the power kept on coming through at the set-piece.
Whether it was Suzz or Sinckler, the Lions were being penalised, and Pollard stroked the ball through the sticks again.
And yet again, the Saffir stand-off struck after another scrum penalty was conceded, which allowed the Boks to run away with this one on the scoreboard.
The second half got away from the Lions, through a combo of being dominated at the set-piece, being dreadful in the air, and indiscipline playing into the Bok’s hands and gameplan.
And would we genuinely have wanted it any other way? Well, aye it’d be less stressful but this is the essence of a Lions tour.
“Your Everest” awaits these new Lions in the 3rd Test. The less nonsense talk in between – the attempted mind games which would make Sir Alex Ferguson chuckle at their pettiness – the better the game will be for it.
Referee: Ben O’Keefe (NZRU)
SRBlog Player Of The Match: He’s doing the double. Captain Sh*thouse, the scourge of the breakdown who gets away with murder in a fashion only Richie McCaw could equal: Maro Itoje. Kept the Lions competitive even when it looked like the game was getting away from them.
Scottish Lion Of The Match: Chris Harris didn’t have to do a lot to win this, but that smash on Am and a generally error-free showing compared to the others gets it.