Springboks v Lions II: long way back for tourists after second half hammering

Hosts scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to square the Test series and set up a winner-takes-all decider next Saturday

South Africa prop Steven Kitshoff. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
South Africa prop Steven Kitshoff. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

South Africa 27

British & Irish Lions 9

WHAT a difference a week makes. The world champion Springboks roared back into this Test series with a towering second half performance which left the Lions lost and listless by the end. It is a long way back for Warren Gatland’s side with only six days to find the answers they need to the tough questions which stumped them here.

The Springboks dominated the set-piece, winning a succession of scrum penalties and squeezing the life out of the tourists with their line-out maul. They pulverised the Lions at the breakdown, they swamped  their midfield, and they tortured the back-three with a vicious aerial bombardment. Lions discipline disintegrated and they were a distant second best in almost every facet of the game during the second 40 minutes.

It is not going to be about a few tweaks and hoping for a bit better luck. The Lions are in big trouble because that second half was a physical and a psychological mauling.

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“We were happy with the way it was going at half-time but in the second half we just didn’t get anything, really,” said Lions head coach Warren Gatland afterwards. “We just had no momentum, no opportunity to play, and nothing at all from any kick-returns whether it was us or them, so that was disappointing.

“The game was very, very slow in terms of how often the clock was stopped, and they did a good job of managing that by slowing the game down, which was frustrating for us. It was difficult to get that rhythm in the second half because of how much of it was stop-start.

“The players are obviously very disappointed but next Saturday is a cup final and that’s the way we’ve got to look at it and prepare for it,” he added. “There’s a few things we’ve got to tidy up in terms of our game, but its one-all and they [South Africa] put a huge amount of emotion into that game so we’ve got that chance next week to hopefully tie the series up.”

Given what was at stake, and the tenor of the build-up, it was no surprise that we got a flare up early on, with almost every player on the park adding their tuppence but the face-off between Alun Wyn Jones and opposite number Eben Etzebeth the focal point. That gave referee Ben O’Keeffe an opportunity to lay down the law to the two captains, but it didn’t really register because the niggle continued throughout the first half and into the second-half, until South Africa were so far ahead that the sting dropped out of the match.

Scottish centre Chris Harris made an early impression with a huge hit on opposite number Lukhanyo Am but South Africa kept the pressure on and a Lions offside allowed Handré Pollard to edge the hosts into a fifth minute lead.

Lions came back. They were tentative, but managed to slowly work their way to just shy of South Africa’s 22, then Dan Biggar hoisted a high one which Willie le Roux knocked on under pressure from Duhan van Der Merwe and Harris. The tourists secured the scrum possession and when Jasper Wiese was penalised for a no-arms tackle right in front of the posts a few phases later, Biggar sent over the three points to square the match with 10 minutes played.

Biggar edged the Lions ahead with an offside penalty on 16 minutes, but the tourists then failed to collect the restart and were fortunate on this occasion that Pollard was off target with his shot at goal from 40 yards out after Hogg was penalised for holding on.

The Springboks lost 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit in the 21st minute. He had suffered a shoulder injury from a late tackle by van der Merwe in the opening minutes and battled on bravely, but now couldn’t continue. The home side didn’t let it knock them off their stride.

Lions were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when van der Merwe got himself in a muddle chasing a loose pass and ended up tripping opposite number Cheslin Kolbe, but the disparity in numbers was short-lived because just two minutes later Kolbe ran into Conor Murray at the height of his leap for a high ball, and the winger was perhaps lucky that the colour of his card was yellow and not red. It wasn’t intentional but it was dangerous.

That incident prompted another round of pushing and pulling and O’Keeffe had another stern chat with the captains, promising that he would happily start flashing more cards if there was any more shenanigans.

Good work from Makazole Mapimpi in getting over the tackled Stuart Hogg to compete for the ball led to another penalty opportunity for Pollard, and this time he nailed it from 45-metres out and just five yards in from the right touchline.

Robbie Henshaw came within a whisker of claiming the game’s opening try when he collected Conor Murray‘s chip into the in-goal area, but Siya Kolisi did brilliantly to dislodge the ball as the Irish centre tried to force it down.

Play was taken back for a no-arms tackle by Bongi Mbonambi on Tom Curry, and Biggar slotted the points from right in front of the posts, meaning the Lions led by three at the break and were looking good for a 2-0 series lead.

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South Africa didn’t see it that way, and they fired out the blocks after the the interval, twice getting the better of Hogg in the air, winning a penalty at a scrum, and launching a ferocious line-out drive, before Pollard eventually sent Mapimpi in for the first try of the match with a well-judged kick to the left wing. It was a rare shaft of light in what was generally a four encounter.

Pollard missed the conversion meaning the hosts were only two points ahead, and when Kwagga Smith was perhaps harshly penalised as he tried to rip the ball from Hogg in a tackle, Biggar had an opportunity to edge the tourists back in front, but he hit the post.

That was the last time the Lions were really in the game, and there was half an hour still to play. South Africa were totally dominant in both scrum and line-out, and they were persecuting Hogg and van der Merwe in the air. Another powerful line-out drive had the Lions frantically back-pedalling, before Faf de Klerk laced a grubber forward which Am managed to reach and touch down just before it crossed the dead-ball line.

As Lions discipline disintegrated, it felt like we were watching last weekend’s match in reverse. Lions won the second half 19-5 last week and lost it 21-0 this week. The tourists’ only hope seemed to be that their vaunted superior match fitness would swing the game back their way in the final quarter – but the hosts didn’t ease off at all.

Three more penalties from Pollard during the final 10 minutes stretched the home lead out to 18 points.

Changes are likely next week and Hogg’s position will come under scrutiny, with Liam Williams‘ ability dealing with the high ball likely to be a big draw for the coaching team given the inevitability of another aerial assault.

“It is about making sure that we do a proper review of the game and look at individuals before deciding if we need to make some changes,” said Gatland.

“Obviously, Liam was disappointed [to miss out this week] and he is one of those players that will come into contention, as will others as well. Or do we put that same team out and give them a chance to redeem themselves? These are the conversations we’ll have over the next couple of days.”


Teams –

South Africa: W le Roux; C Kolbe, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi (D Willemse 67); H Pollard, F de Klerk (H Jantjies 63); S Kitshoff (T Nyakane 59), B Mbonambi (M Marx 56), F Malherbe (V Koch 56), E Etzebeth, F Mostert, S Kolisi (M van Staden 72), P du Toit (K Smith 21), J Weise (L de Jager 56).

Lions: S Hogg; A Watson, C Harris (E Daly 61), R Henshaw, D van der Merwe; D Biggar (O Farrell 57), C Murray (A Price 58); M Vunipola (R Sutherland 56), L Cowan-Dickie (K Owens 56), T Furlong (K Sinckler 56), M Itoje, A Jones (captain),  C Lawes (T Beirne 71), T Curry, J Conan (T Faletau 59).

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe.


Scorers –

South Africa: Try: Mapimpi, Am; Con: Pollard; Pen: Pollard 4.

Lions: Pens: Biggar 3.

Scoring sequence (South Africa first): 3-0; 3-3; 3-6; 6-6; 6-9 (h-t) 11-9; 16-9; 18-9; 21-9; 24-9.


Yellow cards –

South Africa: Kolbe (24mins)

Lions: Van der Merwe (22mins)

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About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. You could almost hear the coaches discussion before this test:- (Gatland) ‘Right Gregor, playing expensively didn’t work last week in the 1st half, and we only won when we slowed it down and played the high ball in the second half. Let’s bring on Murray and do more of that this week. None of that high tempo passing the ball around nonsense please.’ However the 1st half tempo (even if sometimes we were forcing the play a bit) was what tired the Boks and earned the win in the second last week. The slow, start-stop, kicking game was just poor tactics this week. Murray was poor and slow round the park and we just played into the Bok’s hand trying to play their kicking game. Got to be deeply frustrating for GT.
    And what’s the point of having Watson, Hogg and VDM in the backline if they never see the ball through the hands?
    There’s got to be a significant change of tactics and personnel for next weekend otherwise it’s a total waste of time.
    Of the Scots lads, Sutherland was not great, Harris was solid but uninspired, Price didn’t get much of a chance to do much with an already defeated pack, and Hoggy and VDM were badly used but definately fallible under the high ball.

  2. different KO times Keith, I’d like to have been able to watch both. But that was a typical Gatland game plan, and it did not work. I know which I would have preferred to see, without too much hindsight

  3. Cometh the hour. Let’s see a an Ali-Finn combo at half back to get the game moving and a return for Hamish in the back row. I would partner him with Beirne so that there is real marauding menace off the back of the scrum and the Lions can counter the three Saffer locks. Gatland produces very dull test rugby regardless of whether he wins or loses and I am pleased this will be his last time in charge. His negative tactics must be trying Gregor’s patience, for I haven’t seen Scotland play so defensively, nor so ineptly, for quite some time. If Hogg is going to play, rather than be treated as the scapegoat for the ineptitude of the front 10, then get him into the line more often – like he does when he wears a blue jersey – and from where he can do serious damage. And for heaven’s sake Lions, run with the ball instead of kicking away possession aimlessly and then blaming the back three.

  4. A very poor game of rugby. I see a lot of criticism of the back 3 for poor handling of the high ball – whilst some of this is merited there must be more to rugby than hoofing the ball up in the air. OK the Boks have made an art of this and it wins them games but we must play differently to beat them. We never use our outside backs and don’t even try any back moves – I cant remember either wing receiving a pass in an attacking position via our backs. This is not rugby and we won’t win trying to beat the Boks at their own game. As Al has said – Biggar is the problem so we need try a bit more adventure at fly half so its Russel/Smith and then we’ve got to actually play more with ball in hand – doesnt mean throw it around like 7’s but some variety. Forwards need to up their game also – time to shed AWJ – I’m afraid he doesnt merit a place in the team. Henderson or even Beard and start Beirne – maybe even Simmonds with Watson. We need some more dynamic players on the pitch who can up the tempo. I also see comments elsewhere about Russel being too risky – yes its risky but its better than the bore we are currently getting and we might actually win – take a chance.

  5. One of the worst games of rugby I’ve seen in a long time, devoid of ideas. Kick kick kick. Terrible advert for the game and the lions got what they deserved.

  6. Thank god this is the last time we will see Gatland in charge of a Lions tour. Brutally depressing tactics absolutely magnified at the end of the first half when a man up in the backs and attacking in the SA 22 with a penalty Biggar tries a chip kick. Did he actually pass the ball outside him once from first phase. Although to be fair the service he got from Murray (when he bothered to turn up at the breakdown) was terminal. You have to ask the question …why is Townsend there, when our only attacking tactic is to kick.

  7. Ouch that was tough rugby. That said the Lions never looked like scoring a try. They (Bigger I mean) just kicked the ball away, no attempt till Farrell come on to put in a flat pass, and he only got to do it twice. Finn must come back next weekend, and Murray must go. The much vaunted back row hardly saw the ball and never made a single line break that I saw. We are also missing a big no 8 dare I say like Vunipola for go forward ball. Most of our problems lie at no 10 Biggar is does not bring the invention of Finn or even the will to win of Farrell. The backs can never get going because Bigger is lying 15 metres away from Price and then he kicks. If Finn is not fit then it’s time to go for young Smith, we need a play making no10.
    Finally thought Sutherland was poor again, even his open field play was poor. The back row looked poor because they never got the ball, they spent the game running after it after it was kicked away.

    • There will be a few players hoping to get a game next week who haven’t been involved in the first two tests. With two games under their belts the Springboks will be better again for the next one. To maintain party harmony let’s give others the chance to shine. Jones (if fit), CowanDickie, Furghlong, Lawes, Henderson, Beirne, Simmonds, Navidi, Davies, Smith, Aki, Henshaw, Adams, Reece Zammit & Williams. It has been an incredibly different kind of tour and tensions among the party must be strained given the lack of community involvement and social isolation this pandemic has created. Finger crossed the next one gives us a performance to be proud of.

  8. Poor game from the Lions. I didn’t understand what the tactics were. Discipline disintegrated and all battles lost. Creamed up front. After great 1st half, line outs went as well. Poor kicking.

    SA were utterly dominant in the 2nd half.

    Oh to be a fly on the coaches debrief and selection meeting.

    • tactics were the same as last week. Kick it, then kick it again. Try and strangle the opposition. Standard Gatland tactics, Plan A with a bit of extra kicking.
      Problem was the kicking was not as good as last week, Boks better prepared, and when things got tough and not working, they stuck to more plan A, again standard Gatland.

  9. Sky hyperbole…Warrenball … whinging Rassie – I really wish I’d been able to watch the Stirling County v Southern Knights game instead.

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