SA Rugby magazine highlights five crucial areas the Boks will need to dominate to win the first Test against the British & Irish Lions.
It goes without saying that winning this set piece is critical for every Test side but, with so much of South Africa’s gameplay built upon dominance here, it is particularly important for the Boks to be strong.
The Bok coaches have picked a pack that is man for man lighter and smaller than their Lions equivalents. This is a risky strategy on the part of South Africa. It could heap pressure on to the Boks at scrum time and will undoubtedly be an area where the Lions will look to target them.
If the Boks are to win the first Test, then starting props Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane need to be ready for the Lions onslaught. If they capitulate it, would rob the men in green and gold of a platform to attack from and a key attacking weapon in itself.
The benefit of picking a lighter pack, is that the Boks will be more mobile than usual. This will assist them in countering what is likely to be a running game brought by the Lions, but could leave them short of grunt on attack.
If the Boks cannot dominate the collisions and get go-forward, they will struggle against a well-marshalled Lions defence that has looked rock solid all tour. With a lack of big-ball carriers, players such as Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende will have extra responsibility to generate momentum.
In the first Test, the Lions will deploy a very potent kicking arsenal. Dan Biggar and Stuart Hogg are experts at finding space in behind the defence and putting up contestable kicks. Elliot Daly, at outside centre, has a similarly cultured kicking game and also boasts a howitzer boot capable of kicking penalties from 55 metres out.
The Boks, however, are also masters of the kicking game and in Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux they have three of the best. These three leaders will need to be accurate all game if the Boks are to edge out the kicking battle.
Wings Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe are experts in the air and will be looking forward to taking on Anthony Watson and Duhan van der Merwe.
In both the SA A matches against the Lions and Bulls, the Boks conceded yellow cards for repeated offences on their tryline. In the match against the Lions this wrested ascendancy away from South Africa and halted their momentum.
Against the Lions in the Test arena, any ill-discipline will be ruthlessly exploited. The Lions have the ability to kick penalties from almost anywhere, courtesy of Elliot Daly’s boot, and have the attacking nous to exploit any man advantage conferred by a yellow or red card.
Gatland and his coaching team have been engaged in a prolonged and rather transparent attempt to influence the referees ahead of the series, so the Boks must be especially wary of not giving away penalties.
With the lack of preparation time ahead of the first Test, it is of definite concern that the Boks will struggle to maintain intensity for the entire eighty minutes.
Nienaber and Erasmus have already alluded to certain players not having the required minutes under their belt for a full match.
How the coaches use their substitutes – particularly their replacement front rowers – could be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the match. Deploy them too soon and they may not have maximum impact, too late and the Boks may already be chasing the game.