Springboks v Lions III: Morne Steyn kicks South Africa to series win … again

Finn Russell starred for the tourists in winner-takes-all third Test in Cape Town but couldn't quite inspire a win for his team

The Lions cam up short in their series-deciding third Test against South Africa. in Cape Town last night. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
The Lions cam up short in their series-deciding third Test against South Africa. in Cape Town last night. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

South Africa 19

British & Irish Lions 16

THE Springboks sealed a 2-1 series win over the Lions with veteran stand-off Morne Steyn coming off the bench to repeat his heroics from 2009 by kicking a late penalty to break the tourists’ hearts.

The pain for the Lions will be acute. With Finn Russell outstanding after replacing Dan Biggar at stand-off in the 11th minute, they dominated the first half but let several opportunities to make it really count on the scoreboard slip through their fingers, meaning there was only four points in at the break.

South Africa came out for the second period and focussed on their physicality, and edged ahead through a fine try from Cheslin Kolbe, before Steyn’s late cameo saw them home.

Lions passed up at least four kickable penalties over the course of the game and went to the corner instead. With the benefit of hindsight we can say that was a mistake.

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“I’m disappointed, obviously, but I’m really proud of the effort that the boys put in,” said Lions head coach Warren Gatland afterwards. “I thought we were bold, and we went out there to be positive and play some rugby.

“We missed one or two chances and they kind of get a lucky bounce and they score a try against the run of play. There were a couple of 50-50 calls that probably didn’t go our way, but it was a proper Test match. It was tough, it was physical – that’s what you want with a Lions series.

“It was a really tight contest. It could have gone any way. Congratulations to South Africa.”

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South Africa started as they meant to go on, with two high balls in the first minute, both of which were won back by the hosts. The Lions followed suit, and were rewarded with a knock-on and offside which offered Dan Biggar the opportunity to get the score-board rolling, but the fly-half’s effort floated left of the posts.

A nice passage of continuity from the Springboks broke the Lions defensive line three times around the 10 minute mark, and eventually led to an offside penalty for the home side, which Handré Pollard turned into three points. More significantly in the context of the how the whole match panned out, Dan Biggar picked up a knee injury, meaning the much earlier introduction of Russell than anticipated, making his first match appearance in five weeks after an Achilles injury sidelined him earlier in the tour.

He quickly settled in, knocking over a penalty four minutes after his arrival on the pitch to level the scores after Steven Kitshoff collapsed a scrum, and following that up in the next passage of play with a cross-kick, three good passes in heavy traffic which had the South Africans scrambling, and the correct decision to hold onto the ball when the pass wasn’t on, which earned his team another penalty on halfway.

The Scottish stand-off fired the ball right into the corner and Lions powered the line-out drive the six yards required for Ken Owens to get the downward pressure. Russell nailed the conversion from wide on the left.

When another trademark flat pass from Russell releasedWilliams down the right, it should have neem try-time, but the Welsh full-back didn’t make use of Josh Adams on his outside. Play was brought back for another Lions  penalty near halfway and Russell sent another inch-perfect kick to the corner, but a Tom Curry obstruction stopped a repeat of Owens’ try a few minutes earlier.

Alun Wyn Jones managed to shovel possession out of contact to send Maro Itoje galloping into the Springbok 22 as the Lions continued to dominate with half an hour played, but he ended up isolated and another promising opportunity slipped by.

Lions loose-head Wyn Jones needed fairly extensive treatment five minutes shy of half-time and struggled at the subsequent scrum, leading to a penalty opportunity for Pollard to a make it a four point match.

The tourists had a chance to bounce right back when they won a ruck penalty straight from the restart and Russell once again judged his kick to the corner to perfection, but Itoje ended up conceding a holding-on penalty so there was no more scoring in the first half. It was looking good for Gatland’s team, but the passing up of three or four clear-cut try-scoring opportunities was to prove costly.

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Pollard had a chance to pull it back to a one-point match after seven minutes of the second half when Curry was penalised for being slow to move away from the tackle, but the South African playmaker hit the post.

There was a nervous few minutes for Russell when his right arm connected with Cheslin Kolbe‘s head in a tackle, but referee Mathieu Raynal in conversation with Television Match Official Marius Jonker correctly ruled that the South Africa winger slipping was sufficient mitigation for it to be called a penalty but not a card.

Pollard missed another shot at goal but momentum was now with South Africa, and they streaked into the lead when Kolbe stepped inside Williams and burned Luke Cowan-Dickie on the outside on his way to the line. There was a hold-up while the possibility that Jasper Wiese had knocked-on when competing for a high ball at the start of the move, before Raynal decided to stick with his initial on-field call.

Pollard’s kicking radar returned for the conversion and the Sprinboks were three points ahead entering the final quarter.

South Africa’s discipline slipped for a few minutes, and they gave away a couple of cheap penalties, including one for a late shoulder charge from Eben Eben Etzebeth which allowed Russell to square it.

Then Steyn entered the fray on 65 minutes and two minutes later the 37-year-old slotted a penalty which edged his team back in front, but the Lions were beginning to look dangerous.

Duhan van der Merwe had a charge up the left touchline, Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler and Robbie Henshaw all carried with intent, and when Etzebeth conceded another penalty – this time for slapping the ball out of Conor Murray‘s hand – the tourists went for the corner.

It was a bold move and it didn’t pay off because South Africa sacked the maul, and although Mako Vunipola managed to find a way over the try-line on a short ball, he couldn’t get it grounded and a penalty conceded at the subsequent scrum allowed the hosts to clear upfield.

A thunderous maul from the Springboks had the Lions back-pedalling, but Cobus Reinach knocked-on and a brilliant break through the middle by Henshaw led to a Lukhanyo Am offside, which let Russell make it all-square again.

Steyn was almost the villain for South Africa before he ultimately became the hero because he got himself confused gathering a kick from Russell which had bounced over the try-line and was lucky to get away with it,

Then came the decisive moment. Russell failed to gather a Springbok bomb and a penalty was conceded right in front of the posts with just two minutes left on the clock. For some reason, Jantjies decided to take a fast one and got isolated, but then got out of jail because Raynal called it back for the tap being taken in the wrong place.

Steyn drilled home the three-points and although the Lions won back possession at the restart they ended up giving away a scrum penalty and it was game over.

There can be no real complaints about the result, but the Lions will feel that this was an opportunity they let slip through their fingers.

“When you’re playing the world champions you know it’s going to be really tight contest – it’s going to be a bounce of a ball or a referee decision or something like that,” concluded Gatland. “We were held up over the line then we were penalised at a scrum, which was a little bit unlucky when you’re five metres out from their line.

“The boys gave it 100 per cent and from a coaching point of view you can’t ask for more than that.”

“[But] the penalty count was 15-12 against us and at this level it’s so important. Your aim is to keep your penalties under 10, and if you can do that it makes a significant difference.

“There were big moments like the two-on-one with Liam Williams and Josh Adams, when he should have given the pass, probably. You get one or two chances at this level and you’ve got to make the most of it. You’ve got to be clinical when they come around.

“Probably the most disappointing part of the game was the first 10 minutes of the second half when we just got pinned in our half a little bit then it took us a while to start getting some momentum.”


Teams –

South Africa: W le Roux (D Willemse 78); C Kolbe, L Am, D Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard (M Steyn 64), C Reinach (H Jantjies 64); S Kitshoff (T Nyakane 60), B Mbonambi (M Marx 55), F Malherbe (V Koch 55), E Etzebeth, L de Jager (K Smith 53), S Kolisi (M v Staden 55-62), F Mostert (K Smith 13-21), J Wiese (S Kolisi  63).

Lions: L Williams; J Adams, R Henshaw, B Aki, D van der Merwe; D Biggar (F Russell 11), A Price (C Murray 59); W Jones (M Vunipola 44), K Owens (L Cowan-Dickie 53), T Furlong (K Sinckler 59), M Itoje, A Jones (A Beard 60), C Lawes, T Curry, J Conan (S Simmonds 60).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal.


Scorers –

South Africa: Tries: Kolbe; Con: Pollard; Pen: Pollard 2, Steyn 2.

Lions: Tries: Owens; Cons: Russell; Pen: Russell 3.

Scoring sequence (Lions first): 3-0; 3-3; 3-8; 3-10; 6-10 (h-t) 11-10; 13-10; 13-13; 16-13; 16-16; 19-16.

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About David Barnes 3911 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. Please for the love of God no more Warren Gatland. He has been head coach for the last three tours and it’s time to give it to someone with a different style of play.
    The majority of fans would prefer to watch entertaining and imaginative rugby rather than a full on slugfest between two packs with little back play to keep us awake.
    If the tour to Australia doesn’t do this then it may well be the last. With the calender so congested the Lions has to at least try to offer something different to normal international play.

  2. Hopefully in 2025 arrangements are in place whereby the full selected squad get together at the outset rather than in dribs and drabs due to clashes with club finals.

    Hopefully they then go to Australia followed by a huge travelling support, play warm-up games against the best possible opposition, ideally employing an ambitious, attacking tactics, and there’s none of the stupid off-the-field media circus rubbish that happened with Erasmus this time.

    And hopefully Scotland have at least good a representation in the squad (if not even better) again, as this has really stirred interest in the Lions here.

  3. So good to see Finn step up and prove all those doubters wrong. The ones who’ve said that his goal kicking isn’t consistent enough or that he’s a maverick who doesn’t have the big match temperament, that he shouldn’t be on a Lions tour taking Sexton’s place blah blah blah… A lot of the rest of the home nations reassessing those views today.

    Makes you wonder what might have been if Finn had been fit for all three tests. Personally I don’t think he’d have seen a start until this match anyway under WG. With Finn taking charge and linking up with Ali they just sparked the team into life – it was contagious. A bit more accuracy (Williams) and discipline (particularly Curry – what was the point of having Simmonds warming the bench the whole match?) and we should have romped home.

    Such a shame that we never got to see some great NH backs get the ball in hand for the bulk of the tests – instead getting sucked into playing SA’s dull as dishwater game of set piece and kick-chase (from which there was only going to be one winner).

    • South Africa play Argentina the next two weeks then Australia and New Zealand. The next month or so will offer an interesting perspective on the tour and the level of play. If SA can keep winning, the Lions efforts look more creditable, for a team thrown together with no proper warm up. If SA lose games then it is not a good look.
      All these teams will be nicely warmed up for the Autumn Internationals – GT had better get his thinking cap on now. : )

  4. Well, given the performance of the Scots contingent on this tour, it makes the Autumn International against the Springboks a fantastic prospect! Hamish might have a point to prove…

  5. I’m not anti-Gatland but he shouldn’t be the coach in 4 years time. He’s had a full cycle, won 1 of the 3 tours, and it’s time for someone else to get a shot.

  6. What a poor advertisement for Rugby this test series has been. What might have been had Finn Russell been fit for all the tests ? Would he have been picked ? The Boks play not to lose and have it down to a fine art.The Lions with weekly team changes never looked like a team until Finn Russell took charge in the backs.We failed yesterday to take all the points on offer and it cost us the series. Poor Liam Williams will have nightmares.

  7. The game had shades of the Twickenham game when Russell appeared to tear up Toonie’s gameplan and almost brought off a miraculous victory. The other players showed they could respond to a daring and inspirational approach, as if a load had suddenly been taken off their shoulders, when Finn appeared.This seems to point the finger at the coaches and the game plan approach for the first two games. Was Toonie a fellow conspirator in this limited unambitious approach or did he not have the cahones to stand up to Gatland ? He was meant to be attack coach after all. He should also have stood up for the selection of Beirne and Hamish Watson for the last game to try to ensure quick ball, speedy competition at rucks and fast support play. No more Gats, please. Who will be the first to write a “kiss and tell” book in time for Christmas ?

  8. “When the hurlyburly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won”.
    My expectations of the game soared when Bigger hobbled off and Finn walked on and so it proved. In view of last weeks blaming of the Scottish contingent for last weeks defeat , I can only point a finger at the Wunderkind L William’s butchering of a cert try and Curry’s brain fart at the maul and wait till they try and find some reason to blame the Scots for the defeat.
    Some players enhanced their reputations for the Scottish contingent Price , Finn and Watson and when he got some ball VDM were generally excellent. We can but only wonder what would have happened if Finn was available all tour and Gatland had picked him.
    It should all be valuable experience going forward for the Scottish guys. My player of the tour and I never thought I would say this is Ali Price , he came in as 3rd place no 9 and finished by and away the 1st choice , and played really well, I can but say well done sir.

    • I don’t recall sensible people blaming the “Scottish contingent” for last week’s defeat and I don’t expect to see sensible people blaming non-Scottish players for yesterday’s loss.

      Rugby is a team game.

      • It depends who you think is sensible I suppose. Plenty of pundits, journalists and twitterati blaming second test loss on Hogg and DVDM. Plenty called for all Scots to be out of test team after first test win (eg. Warburton).

        Last test Finn has got near universal praise and general approval of price and VDM performances but it’s still grating that in the minds of a lot of the media’s mouthpieces the Scots didn’t really belong there. Not to mention that many of those fawning over Finns performance also didn’t think he should be chosen or start a test.

  9. Dropping Hogg for Williams ended up being a calamity with Williams butchering a seven pointer, missing the tackle which gifted SA a try and dropping as many high balls as hoggy did. Beirne n Watson not being first picks was unfathomable and probably cost the series. Vunipola, Murray, Biggar, Farrell in particular were not just poor they were downright liabilities. Russell did more in 70 min than the rest of the squad combined. It’s a tragic reflection on how turgid rugby union is becoming that a player who tries to be creative is labelled a maverick. Time to get rid of mauls, ensure the ball is fed into the middle of the scrum and when players encroach in ruck to slow ball don’t tell them no, penalty and yellow card.

  10. Finn Russell may just have failed to win the deciding test for the Lions in South Africa but he single handed saved the most turgid of tours with his play and maybe for some the very ethos of the Lions themselves.

  11. As a fan I found the tour a massive turn off after being quite excited because of the Scottish representation. But I hope it serves Scotland well, having 7 test Lions in our squad including officially the home nations best half backs.

    It’s a real shame Finn Russell wasn’t available for the first two tests and that Gatland took such a negative approach. I think Russell given the reins and all the weapons at the Lions disposal could have produced a classic series but it wasn’t to be.

    Russell and Hogg only have a handful of seasons left to win a 6N but we should finally be at the stage where we have real belief in our ability to do so. Roll on 2022.

  12. Fair play to Finn Russell, added an attacking edge and variation to the game.

    How many pens were conceded by the forwards in the last 20mins? Wasn’t clear whether Sinckler was pinged for the final scrum.

    Will be looking forward to our boys back in a Scotland shirt, and some refereeing where a decision isn’t justified 8 times over to please the rugby gods.

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