The Springboks showed they’re not a ‘one-trick pony’, switching tactics in the second half to produce a resounding, comeback victory against the British & Irish Lions in the second Test of the series, writes ZELIM NEL.
“[The Boks are] a very good one-trick pony,” Lions legend and TV pundit Jeremy Guscott told listeners on a podcast two weeks before the first of three Tests. “If they don’t win the collisions, they won’t win the Test series.”
The series will be decided in the third Test after the world champions blanked the tourists in the second-half of a 27-9 victory at Cape Town Stadium.
The Boks were trailing by three points at the break and staring down the barrel of a series defeat after being comprehensively manhandled by the Lions in the first 40.
Rookie No 8 Jasper Wiese continued to make little impression as the man chosen to fill in for injured enforcer Duane Vermeulen and the pack was beaten in the trenches by the likes of Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones and Tom Curry as South African runners crossed the gainline on just one third of their carries in the first 40.
Guscott’s theory held that, if unable to dominate the collisions, the Boks had no Plan B to alter the course of the contest. The world champions emphatically debunked this theory with a change in approach after half-time that blew the Lions out of the game.
The Boks swapped carries for kicks in the second half, replicating what the Lions had done in the first Test to the same affect.
Where the tourists out-kicked South Africa in the opening stanza, feeding the hosts’ desire to truck the ball up, the Boks put boot to ball 30 times after changing sides and took total control of the scoreboard.
In the first Test, the Lions halfbacks isolated the South Africa’s undersized kick receivers to reclaim a high percentage of the contestables. The roles were reversed on Saturday as green kicks were reclaimed by green contesters.
This produced a radical turnaround for the renowned Bomb Squad. Having spent the first Test scrambling to put out fires set in the kicking game, the Bok replacements on Saturday spent their time running onto quick ball against disorganised defenders.
But there was more to the Bok kicking game than isolation kicks and fresh legs. Both of South Africa’s tries, scored by wing Makazole Mapimpi and centre Lukhanyo Am, came from the halfbacks toeing pin-point attacking kicks.
The world champions failed to dent the Lions wall in the first half with a narrow, confrontational attack that wasn’t reaping rewards, and they then adjusted in the second half, switching to a proactive kicking attack that outflanked the defence.
The tactical switch proved that the Boks have more than one arrow in their quiver and also ramped up the pressure on the Lions defence and breakdown which resulted in a decisive swing in the penalty count as the likes of replacement hooker Malcolm Marx got in over the ball.
South Africa lost the penalty count 8-1 in the second half of the first Test but on Saturday won the battle of the whistle 9-1 in the final 40.
This advantage had the twin effect of flipping the field (the Lions had 60% territory before half-time) and bringing the Bok lineout into the game.
In this Test series, the Lions have made a concerted effort to deny South Africa’s attack a set-phase launchpad by kicking in-field, and not out. However, that tactic was negated by a string of penalties against the tourists on Saturday and a rejigged Bok lineout, featuring replacement lock Lood de Jager and starting jumpers Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, breathed life into the Bok maul.
These gains were further backed up by first-rate scrumming from the second-string props, with Trevor Nyakane’s seamless switch to loosehead defining the impact of the Bomb Squad.
“If you win the collisions against South Africa, I’d pretty much guarantee that you’ll win,” said Guscott. Fact check: false.