The British & Irish Lions Test series lived up to all the hype in a bruising opener in Cape Town, but just like they did at the 2019 World Cup, Siya Kolisi’s world champion Springboks have the ability to bounce back and win the series, writes Mark Keohane.
The 12 year wait to see the Lions play the Springboks didn’t disappoint as a match, even though the absence of a crowd because of Covid restrictions and no Lions supporters dressed as a Sea of Red detracted from the match being called an occasion.
This was a rugby Test match, with 15 players putting it on the line against 15 players and the substitutes giving everything the moment they were introduced to the battle.
This was gladiator stuff, with both teams’ captains Siya Kolisi and Alun Wyn Jones leading the charge.
The Lions, on the night, were better, if only marginally on the scoreboard. The 22-17 win, having been 12-3 down at halftime, does not tell the story of a dominant second half, which the Lions won 19-5.
I had the Boks to win the series 3-0. I also had the series to be played at the FNB Stadium in front of 90 000, at the Cape Town Stadium in front of 50 000 and at Emirates Airline Park in front of 60 000. No crowds make a difference and a full house for a home Springboks Test is always worth a few points for the Springboks.
In Saturday’s opener, there were no bonus points to be gained or conceded because of a crowd and it was player against player and coach against coach and, on balance, the visitors were the better on both counts.
The visitors were playing their seventh match in a month and the Springboks just their second Test match in 21 months, with many in the match 23 playing for the first time in a Test since winning the World Cup in Japan in 2019.
The Springboks were also hit with 26 cases of Covid infection and 10 of the match 23 only trained twice in the past fortnight.
These are not excuses but facts, and there aren’t any excuses for the defeat. The better team won, but you’d think rationally that if the Lions, into their seventh match, were not the more conditioned and more fluid then something would be amiss.
The Boks will be stronger for the 80 minutes and they will physically and mentally be better prepared in a week’s time.
This is a team that knows how to fight back, and get on a roll.
We saw that in the 2019 World Cup when they dropped the opening game to the All Blacks 23-13 and then fought their way into the play-offs and beat Japan, Wales and England to claim the title.
Kolisi was immense in getting through 80 minutes and Handre Pollard also made 70 minutes. The duo are critical to South Africa’s success and neither had trained with the squad until earlier this week. Both had been in self isolation for 10 days in Gauteng.
The Springboks will be hurting and there will be questions asked, individually and collectively.
I expect a few changes to the run on XV and also the match 23, but I don’t expect anything different from the two sides in what will be a World Cup semi-final for the Boks because they have to win this one to force a series decider. For the Lions, history could be just six days away because this is their World Cup final. Win it and they win the series.
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