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Gatland's Lions have shot at emulating 1997 crew in final Boks Test

The South Africans finished the second Test with huge momentum.

The Lions have a shot at a series success today.
The Lions have a shot at a series success today.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IN MANY WAYS, a draw in Cape Town this evening would be fitting.

It’s the outcome that nobody wants as the Lions face the Springboks in the deciding third Test [KO 5pm, Sky Sports] but it would almost sum up what has been a strange, fractious, and underwhelming Lions tour to South Africa.

Of course, the hope is that this series ends with an entertaining bang and that the action on the pitch is what we recall most when thinking back to the 2021 Lions series in years to come. There are more than enough world-class players to make this a contest to remember even without supporters in Cape Town Stadium.

The Springboks generated major momentum with their 27-9 thumping of the Lions in last weekend’s second Test as their scrum, maul, lineout, aerial, and breakdown skills came to the fore in the second half to leave the Lions in poor condition by the end.

Some of that momentum has undoubtedly dissipated with the loss of key men Faf de Klerk and Pieter-Steph du Toit to injury but the Boks will still have confidence based on what they did in the second Test.

The Lions, who are aiming for their first series success over the Boks since 1997, have lots of questions to answer. Liam Williams coming in at fullback should improve their composure under the high ball, while head coach Warren Gatland hopes to see Wyn Jones and Ken Owens provide a better scrum and maul return from the front row.

Bundee Aki’s power in midfield could be useful opposite the might of Boks inside centre Damian de Allende, while Josh Adams has a point to prove out on the wing and Ali Price will plan to be more of a threat from scrum-half after failing to make a single dart in the first Test.

robbie-henshaw-is-tackled-over-the-try-line-by-lukhanyo-am-siya-kolisi-and-damian-de-allende The Lions' attack needs to fire today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Gatland’s selection decisions during this tour have been difficult to understand at times but he is right more often than not, with his expectation that Adam Beard, Sam Simmonds and Finn Russell – all newcomers to the Test 23 – can make a big impact off the bench.

The Boks had been forced into changes due to the aforementioned injuries, with the undoubtedly dangerous Montpellier scrum-half Cobus Reinach introduced at number nine while the hulking figure of Lood de Jager starts at lock and Franco Mostert moves to the blindside.

Mostert has a massive engine and is a world-class set-piece operator but he isn’t as agile or quick as du Toit and the Lions may look to expose that with their attack – which simply needs to offer more today.

We have seen hints of clever ideas from attack coach Gregor Townsend but the Lions could do with some tries in this deciding Test. Their only five-pointer in the first two clashes was a maul effort and they won’t turn their nose up at any further scores from that source. Just getting over the line successfully is key.

The Boks’ defence and kicking game always manage to apply pressure but the Lions are planning to lift the tempo of the game today to stress the South Africans in a different way after last weekend’s Test dragged on past the two-hour mark.

De Jager coming into the starting team does diminish the Boks bench somewhat as they revert to a 5/3 split, although the sub front row of Trevor Nyakana, Malcolm Marx, and Vincent Koch did huge damage at scrum time last weekend. 

37-year-old Morné Steyn is a fascinating pick as back-up out-half 12 years on from his winning penalty in the 2009 Lions series and perhaps an indication of how close the Boks masterminds Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber feel this game will be.

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liam-williams Liam Williams will be key in the aerial battle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Steyn’s goal-kicking or drop-kicking might come into play, as might Russell’s creativity off the Lions bench. 

Refereeing has never been discussed as much as in this series, with Frenchman Mathieu Raynal having the honour of adjudicating this final Test.

The hope from all corners is that the players on the pitch are the ones who decide this Test series.

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe; Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager; Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Morné Steyn, Damian Willemse.

LIONS: Liam Williams; Josh Adams, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tadhg Furlong; Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Adam Beard, Sam Simmonds, Conor Murray, Finn Russell, Elliot Daly.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [France]. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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