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Brilliant second half from Boks takes Lions series into deciding third Test

Rassie Erasmus’ men were dominant after the break to secure a deserved win.

South Africa 27

Lions 9

THE LIONS FELT that even having parity at half time here would be a massive step towards sealing the series but a 9-6 break at the lead wasn’t enough for Warren Gatland’s men as the Springboks produced an immense second-half showing in Cape Town.

The South Africans scored two excellent tries and made muscular use of their bench to finish over the top of the tourists and take the series into a deciding third Test next Saturday.

makazole-mapimpi-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-franco-mostert The Boks celebrate Makazole Mapimpi's try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

In truth, this was a dire game of rugby and a very tough watch at times. It lasted more than two hours and 10 minutes due to the incredible number of long stoppages.

The Boks had their turn in getting the luck on the big refereeing decisions and delivered a comprehensive second-half showing to keep their series hopes alive, winning the second half 21-0.

The terrible pitch in Cape Town Stadium didn’t help matters and referee Ben O’Keeffe had an extremely difficult job in what was a foul-tempered encounter after all the talk about the match officials from Rassie Erasmus during the build-up.

Lions wing Duhan van der Merwe and Boks flyer Cheslin Kolbe were both sin-binned in the opening half, the latter lucky to avoid red, while there were multiple scuffles between the teams in what was an extremely tense environment.

The Boks did have the two classiest attacking moments in a game very short of them as Handré Pollard’s excellent kick allowed wing Makazole Mapimpi to score and Faf de Klerk’s clever grubber teed up centre Lukhanyo Am’s score.

The second try came from a stunning Springboks maul and there’s no doubt that the power and guile up front was instrumental, as was the South Africans’ aerial dominance on a bad night for the Lions back three.

Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber’s ‘bomb squad’ bench had a telling impact as they cleverly sent lock Lood de Jager on in the 55th minute but kept starting locks Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert on the pitch too. 

The Boks’ replacement front row was huge too and the Lions crumbled in the face of the onslaught, failing to score a single point in the second half and never really looking like doing so. They did come close to a try before the break but their attack was non-existent otherwise.

It will be a massive worry for Gatland to see his side finished with their tails between their legs and the Boks almost totally dominant. This series rolls into a decider next weekend and the hosts have all the momentum.

tempers-flare-between-maro-itoje-and-eben-etzebeth It was a foul-tempered encounter in Cape Town. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Boks started well as they applied early pressure in the Lions’ 22, resulting in Tadhg Furlong being penalised for offside and Pollard slotting the opening three points of the game off the tee in the fourth minute.

Gatland’s men brought accuracy in their kicking game in response, a hanging garryowen from Biggar leading to a knock-on by Boks fullback Willie le Roux. From the ensuing scrum, number eight Jasper Wiese was pinged for a no-arms tackle and Biggar levelled the game.

The Lions’ defence then fired impressively as they repelled the Boks on their next visit into the 22 before a string of three South African penalties allowed the tourists to nudge themselves ahead at 6-3, while an apparent high tackle by Kolbe on Tom Curry was ignored.

Pollard had a poor miss with his next attempt at goal after a brilliant kick chase and tackle on Stuart Hogg by Boks captain Siya Kolisi led to a counter-rucking turnover.

The Boks then suffered a big blow with Pieter-Steph du Toit forced off injured in the 21st minute due to an earlier suspect tackle on him by Duhan van der Merwe. The Lions wing escaped sanction for that one but he was binned two minutes after du Toit’s departure for a blatant foot trip on Kolbe.

cheslin-kolbe-receives-a-yellow-card-from-ben-okeefe Ben O'Keeffe shows Cheslin Kolbe a yellow card. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Boks right wing soon followed him to the sin bin for taking out Conor Murray in the air and he was lucky to avoid red after it appeared the Lions scrum-half’s face made contact with the ground as he landed after the illegal tackle.

A big Maro Itoje lineout steal – the Lions’ second after an earlier Courtney Lawes effort – helped the away side to grab some momentum but an excellent kick chase and breakdown jackal from Makazole Mapimpi soon won the Boks a penalty and Pollard drew them back to 6-6.

The Lions then made a big decision to go into the right corner when Mapimpi was penalised for another jackal effort, only to see Franco Mostert pick off their lineout at the tail. Itoje reacted superbly, however, and drove Eben Etzebeth over his own tryline.

From the five-metre scrum, Faf de Klerk appeared to make a dangerous no-arms tackle a few phases before Murray cleverly dinked a short kick over the top of the Boks defence for Robbie Henshaw to chase and regather over the tryline, coming close to scoring.

The TMO review showed that Kolisi had somehow managed to get his hand under the ball and strip it away from Henshaw to prevent the try, while referee O’Keeffe only had one look at de Klerk’s hit on Murray, telling the Lions that TMO Marius Jonker had studied more angles.

robbie-henshaw-scores-a-try-that-is-later-disallowed-after-a-review-by-tmo Siya Kolisi makes a superb try-saving intervention on Robbie Henshaw. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Instead, he came back to a penalty advantage against Boks hooker Bongi Mbonambi for another no-arms tackle and Biggar kicked the Lions into a 9-6 lead just before half time.

The Boks started the second 40 superbly as they won a scrum penalty, then powered up their maul for 10 metres of gains down the right before Pollard kicked a contestable over Hogg that le Roux batted back into South African hands.

Some punishing ball-carrying followed before a superb diagonal kick from Pollard over Lions right wing Anthony Watson’s head and into the grasp of Mapimpi, who finished powerfully through Hogg and Jack Conan for an excellent try.

But Pollard had another bad miss off the tee with his conversion attempt and the Boks lead was just 11-9.

Wiese then knocked-on the Lions restart and Gatland’s side had a chance to strike back from the scrum, with their attack yielding a penalty for Boks replacement back row Kwagga Smith’s failure to release after a tackle.

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Biggar had a shot from out on the right in the 52nd minute but his attempt came back off the post and the Boks still led.

ken-owens-kyle-sinckler-ali-price-rory-sutherland-and-owen-farrell-dejected-under-the-posts-after-a-south-africa-try The Lions were left dejected. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Boks had another big win in the air in the 57th minute as they hung a bomb on van der Merwe in what had become a tense battle for momentum.

Gatland opted to send on Ali Price and Owen Farrell at scrum-half and out-half just after both teams have made a raft of changes up front, but the Lions soon had another error in the aerial contest as Watson tackled Pollard in the air.

From the resulting lineout, the Boks’ maul fired up in sensational fashion as they marched 15 metres upfield before de Klerk rolled a brilliant grubber kick into the in-goal area behind the Lions for centre Lukhanyo Am to just dot it down before it crossed the deadball line.

It took a lengthy TMO review to confirm the score but O’Keeffe and co. were happy with their onfield decision of a try and Pollard added the extras for 18-9 with just under a quarter of the game left.

Tempers continued to fray as Itoje appeared to pin his knee down onto Damian de Allende’s neck after a breakdown but the incident wasn’t examined by the match officials.

The Lions were increasingly ill-disciplined and gave up two sloppy penalties in a row as their lineout really struggled against the quality of de Jager and co., allowing Pollard to extend their lead out to 21-9.

With the dominance up front continuing, Pollard was able to add another six points off the tee before the end.

South Africa scorers:

Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am

Conversions: Handré Pollard [1 from 2]

Penalties: Handré Pollard [5 from 6]

Lions scorers:

Penalties: Dan Biggar [3 from 4]

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe (yellow card ’25), Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi (Damian Willemse ’68); Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk (Herschel Jantjies ’62); Steven Kitshoff (Trevor Nyakane ’60), Bongi Mbonambi (Malcolm Marx ’57), Frans Malherbe (Vincent Koch ’57); Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain) (Marco van Staden ’72), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Kwagga Smith ’21), Jasper Wiese (Lood de Jager ’55).

LIONS: Stuart Hogg; Anthony Watson, Chris Harris (Elliot Daly ’62), Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe (yellow card ’23); Dan Biggar (Owen Farrell ’58), Conor Murray (Ali Price ’58); Mako Vunipola (Rory Sutherland ’57), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Ken Owens ’57), Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler ’57); Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Courtney Lawes (Tadhg Beirne ’72), Tom Curry, Jack Conan (Taulupe Faletau ’60).

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe [New Zealand].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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