Boks: We let ourselves down, officials not to blame

Jacques Nienaber has lamented the Boks’ inability to cope with the Lions’ kicking game in the second half, rather than bemoan any officiating inconsistencies after their narrow defeat in Saturday’s first Test. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

At half time at Cape Town Stadium, the Springboks led 12-3, and the overwhelming sentiment was that the hosts were in control and perhaps – if anything – should have held a greater advantage at the break.

Yet, from the moment a mix-up in contending with a contestable kick ultimately resulted in a penalty going the way of the Lions early in the second half, momentum shifted almost exclusively in favour of the tourists.

Matters could have been so different if possible tries to Willie le Roux and Damian de Allende were awarded, but despite both receiving the approval of the on-field referee Nic Berry, the TMO adjudication had the decision overturned.

The first one was particularly contentious considering it seemed impossible to say on the video evidence that there was conclusive footage to suggest Le Roux had been ahead of the kicker.

Yet, TMO Marius Jonker – whose appointment had been questioned earlier in the week by the Lions – ultimately ruled that the try should not be allowed.

Later in the half, Jonker also didn’t intervene despite a tip tackle from Anthony Watson on Willie le Roux, which resulted in only a penalty for the Boks despite it looking very much like a yellow-card offence.

Nienaber wouldn’t be drawn on whether Watson should have been sent from the field, but was emphatic, if not diplomatic, in stating that they had no issue with the decision to disallow the Le Roux ‘would-be’ try.

“I thought it was tight. When we saw the try being given, we as coaches felt it’s going to be unbelievably tight. I completely trust and agree with the decision they made. That is their profession, it’s what they’re good at.

“It could have gone both ways but I 100% agree with the TMO call there. They are in a position where they have all the angles. Sometimes those inches go for you and sometimes it goes against you.

“It’s just one of those things. We had three opportunities to score in the second half and we got brought back, which was the right calls but that’s how close it is,” he added.

“The margins are inches. In one instance, it went for us and in the other two it didn’t go for us.”

Instead, Nienaber said the Boks had to acknowledge that the British & Irish Lions outplayed them in the second half by dominating the aerial battle.

“The kicking game was won by us in the first half and we got the rewards, but the second half was a different story,” said Nienaber.

“They won that battle and it gave them territory, advantage in broken field play and we had to scramble, and could not cope.

“We were nine points up [at half time], so things were working for us – we were playing in the right areas. Our half-time talk was to step up at the breakdown and then our discipline fell away. We started to make mistakes, especially at maul time. We did not make the step-up needed when required.

“We can certainly salvage this. A proper review is needed, but we can sort it out, no doubt. It worked in the first half, and I believe what happened in the second half is fixable.”

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Craig Lewis