Boks strike back to level Lions series

The Springboks produced an outstanding second-half performance to come back from a first-half deficit and make a statement with a 27-9 victory over the British & Irish Lions in the second Test of the series.
Matchflow: After a tense first half, which lasted far longer than 40 minutes, the Lions went into the break with a deserved 9-6 lead.

In many ways, it was a half that reflected the week’s buildup to the Test, as it featured plenty of stoppages and niggly play from both sides, as well as a few fracas breaking out. There were also two yellow cards as Duhan van der Merwe was sent to the sin bin for a cynical trip on Cheslin Kolbe, before the Springbok wing was very lucky not to be red-carded after taking Conor Murray out in the air.

The tourists were unlucky not to be further ahead, as Robbie Henshaw gathered an up-and-under kick before falling over the tryline. However, Bok captain Siya Kolisi capped his outstanding first half with a try-saving tackle that not only held Henshaw up, but dislodged the ball from his grasp.

As a further blow, the Springboks lost Pieter-Steph du Toit to an injury around the 20th minute and he was replaced by Kwagga Smith. This had a clear impact on their lineout, as Maro Itoje started to put plenty of pressure on and the Boks started to give away turnovers.

On the whole, the Springboks weren’t great in the first half as they struggled to break down the Lions defence with ball in hand and were once again troubled by the visitors’ kicking game.

The Springboks flew out of the blocks in the second half, as they started targeting Stuart Hogg under the high ball. That paid almost immediate dividends as Pollard set up Makazole Mapimpi with a beautiful cross-field chip for the game’s first try.

The hosts gave themselves even more of a buffer and showed their intent, when after a powerful driving maul, Faf de Klerk grubbered the ball behind the defence and Lukhanyo Am won the race to ground it over the tryline.

Unlike in the first Test, the Springboks’ replacements came alive and had a big impact, demonstrated when Trevor Nyakane and Vincent Koch won a couple of scrum penalties to put them 24-9 up in the final 10 minutes.

Another penalty won from the pack was slotted by Pollard to help the Boks walk away with a comfortable victory in the end.

Talking points: As all the pre-match talk surrounded the officials, a good word has to be said about referee Ben O’Keeffe, who undoubtedly would have been under plenty of pressure going into this one. The New Zealander didn’t have the easiest game to officiate, as there were plenty of tough calls to be made and disciplinary issues to deal with. However, O’Keeffe had a largely outstanding match and deserves his plaudits.

The Springboks will be far happier with the impact that their replacements made on the game, as they took control of the second half, turning the Lions’ tactics against them and isolating players under the high ball.

It was very much a reverse of the first Test, as the Lions seemed in control of the game in the first half, but the Boks slowly edged their way back into it in the second.

Players who shone: Starting with the Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi had an absolutely outstanding match. Kolisi led from the front, making plenty of shuddering tackles and huge breakdown clean-outs. He also made a perhaps game-defining try-saving tackle on Robbie Henshaw, as the Lions threatened to run away with the game in the first half.

Another player with a game-defining touch, Makazole Mapimpi scored the game’s first try to give the Boks the boost they needed in the second half. However, Mapimpi’s performance was about far more, as he constantly looked for work and covered Cheslin Kolbe’s absence excellently.

A nod also needs to go to the Springboks’ replacements, including the front row of Trevor Nyakane, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch, and lock Lood de Jager, who made a fantastic impact.

Lukhanyo Am, Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende and Faf de Klerk all had excellent outings as well.

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Dylan Jack