Five issues for the Springboks to tackle

Aerial duels and fitness are among the main issues that the Springboks will have to tackle going into the second and potentially decisive Test against the British & Irish Lions on Saturday.

Here, AFP Sport looks a five issues ahead of what promises to be an epic struggle behind closed doors at Cape Town Stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aerial duels
A crisis that Springbok supporters thought had ended three years ago returned last Saturday as the hosts came off second best against an aerial bombardment from the Lions after the break.

During the ill-fated 2016-17 tenure of coach Allister Coetzee, South Africa were sitting ducks when opponents sent the ball skywards knowing they were most likely to regain possession.

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has acknowledged that it was a huge problem with his players often failing to catch the ball or knocking it on.

The supposedly weaker South African trio of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane scrummed well until half time and replacements Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe struggled in the second half.

Assistant coach Deon Davids explained the surprise half-time substitutions two days later by saying Nche (neck) and Mbonambi (hamstring) were not fit to continue.

Kitshoff said the replacements were caught off guard by Australian referee Nic Berry demanding quick feeds to the scrums, and they also battled with the slippery surface, although that also affected the Lions.

Turbo-charged wings Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi sealed success for South Africa in the 2019 World Cup final against England by scoring second-half tries.

But the pair were starved of chances to score this past Saturday after being signalled out before the Test as potential match-winners.

And while they rarely got the ball, opposite numbers Anthony Watson and South African-born Duhan van der Merwe made numerous powerful runs, often evading a number of tackles before being halted.

As with many aspects of the Springboks’ performance, flyhalf Handre Pollard had a much better first half than second.

He had four penalty attempts in the opening 40 minutes, from varying angles and distances, and succeeded with all to create a 12-3 half-time advantage for the world champions.

But the playmaker later fluffed the kickable conversion of a Faf de Klerk try and saw a long-range penalty effort veer left to finish with a 66% success rate, which is below par for him.

While the Lions were much stronger and more energetic after the break in the first Test, the South Africans failed to replicate a first-half showing that gave them plenty of possession and territory.

It was hardly surprising as many Lions entered the series having played up to 15 competitive matches since the coronavirus crisis emerged and the Springboks just one – against second-tier nation Georgia.

South Africa must hope the first top-level challenge since lifting the World Cup in November 2019 will help them go the distance this weekend.

Photo: Gallo Images

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Dylan Jack