The Springboks claimed a famous 2-1 series win over the British & Irish Lions this past Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS picks some of the top performers from the three-Test battle.
When all is said and done, the Boks’ victory over the Lions must surely go down as an achievement equal to this team’s stunning success at the 2019 World Cup.
In fact, when factoring in the limited match practice prior to the series, lack of preparation time as a full squad, a Covid-19 outbreak on the eve of the series, and then the quality of the Lions squad, a solid argument could be made to suggest this achievement trumps the triumph in Japan.
Considering it required a remarkable team effort to achieve the feat of taming the Lions, it’s an almost impossible job to pinpoint the contribution of some individuals above others, but these are the players who are still deserving of a special shoutout:
The Springbok captain simply got better and better as this tour went on. For most onlookers, he would have been fully deserving of the man-of-the-match award in the second Test, while he backed that up with several game-changing contributions in the series decider. After all the officiating controversies from the opening match, his response as a leader and player was particularly impressive. In many ways, this was a career-defining series for the Springbok captain, who led the team to series victory with the sort of on-field authority in performance that was equally matched by his increasingly assured captaincy.
The powerful second rower only enhanced his reputation this series. There was real controlled aggression in the way Etzebeth went about proceedings, while still ensuring he never crossed the disciplinary line. In the absence of Duane Vermeulen, the Springboks needed a momentum stopper to step up on defence, and Etzebeth embraced this role in fine fashion. He was also influential at the lineouts, as a ball-carrier and made his presence felt at the breakdown.
Prior to the third and final Test, former Bok captain John Smit suggested Mostert would be a strong contender for the series MVP, and it’s easy to understand why. His work rate was second to none, with Mostert often resembling a tackling machine as he chopped down the Lions ball-carriers phase after phase. Mostert’s mobility and tireless engine were key for the Boks, while he seamlessly transitioned to flank for the third Test in the absence of injured Pieter-Steph du Toit.
The outside centre was the Springboks’ silent assassin. He marshalled the Bok defence and was often the destroyer-in-chief when it came to disrupting the Lions’ backline rhythm. After the third Test, Am understandably earned plenty of plaudits, which included legendary former Lions centre Brian O’Driscoll, who hailed his role in the buildup to Cheslin Kolbe’s crucial try and labelled the Springbok midfielder as a ‘proper player’. Am has comfortably established himself as the best outside centre in world rugby, and could eventually go down as one of the game’s all-time greats should he maintain this level of play.
The powerful prop most emphatically eradicated any questions over his form with an industrious effort at tighthead prop in the first Test, before shifting roles to provide impact off the bench at loosehead for the final two Tests. He dominated Lions counterpart Kyle Sinckler, and was undoubtedly the most impressive performer in the Bok Bomb Squad. Nyakane took his game to the next level on one of the grandest stages of them all, and while he didn’t grab many headlines, there is no doubt that the big man was the unsung hero of this Bok success story.
Damian de Allende
The burly centre was another player who didn’t win widespread plaudits, but there was a lot to like about the way De Allende went about his business. The 29-year-old has become one of the Boks’ most irreplaceable players and, similarly to Am, there is plenty of good reasons to suggest he is the most impactful inside centre in world rugby right now. De Allende’s decision-making was virtually faultless throughout this series. He was powerful with ball in hand, immovable on defence, and made some telling contributions at the breakdown.