The second test between South Africa and the Lions was pretty much the same as the first test. Except it was a complete mirror image.
Where the Lions were on top last week, they were hammered this week – the aerial game, the driving maul, the lineout.
The alarming absence of energy the Springboks showed in the last 20 minutes last week was shown by the Lions in the second test.
Kolisi’s heroic tackle might have saved the Series
80’ | @Springboks 27 – 9 Lions
🚨 FULL-TIME 🚨
A tough game but the #CastleLionsSeries is still very much alive.
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 31, 2021
It all might not have mattered, however, but for Bok captain Siya Kolisi’s heroic tackle and rip.
Had Robbie Henshaw got downward pressure as he leapt for Connor Murray’s chip under advantage and scored, you wouldn’t have given much hope for the Springboks. At – probably – 13-6 down at the break, you would have bet on the Lions to put the game away.
Kolisi somehow got a hand under the ball and ripped the ball clear when it seemed Henshaw just had to fall to ground to score.
Still, on the evidence of seven days previously, you felt okay about the Lions at 9-6 up at the break. Surely the Boks would run out of gas again?
Springboks seize control of the game after half-time
Instead just as the Lions dominated the second 40 minutes in the first test from almost the restart whistle, the Springboks did the same in the second test. Their backs to the wall, they seized control of the game and did so in the exact same areas the Lions had tormented them the previous Saturday.
Perhaps they were a little over-wrought in the first half in the light of all the controversies sparked by their director of rugby. But the Boks calmed down from the frenzy and played cool and controlled rugby in the second half. 21-0 in the second 40 minutes told the whole story.
The Lions barely tried to play rugby. Anthony Watson and Duhan van der Merwe didn’t see an attacking pass until the game was effectively over. Their kick and chase game was overdone until it was burnt to a crisp, South Africa far better at blocking the runners and competing for the secondary ball.
Game won upfront in the end, as usual
Upfront, the scrummage was always under pressure. Although the Springboks lost control of the lineout when Pieter-Steph du Toit was forced off injured, they countered by slinging on Lood de Jager and barely losing a lineout on either throw thereafter.
And that meant the Boks had plentiful ball to maul, which they did much like they had done in Japan two years ago. The Lions had to expect they wouldn’t be able to stifle that weapon forever.
The back row battle was the Springboks’ entirely. They neutered Courtney Lawes and Jack Conan effectively. Tom Curry fought manfully, but even with du Toit off the hosts controlled matters especially with their counterruck game.
At half-back, it was also not a contest, especially at stand-off. Handre Pollard isn’t perhaps the most cultured of 10s but he played a superbly controlled game. It was fitting the both South African tries came from deft kicks from their two half-backs.
Can the Lions come again?
What do the Lions do now? I don’t think any of Warren Gatland’s alterations to a winning side had a massively detrimental effect. But the lack of pace in their game compared to the first test was very noticeable.
Playing the Springboks at their own game this week simply didn’t work. A speedier, more inventive game will be needed for the third test.
But you have to wonder whether the Lions have it in them to stop the momentum they’ve now conceded to their hosts.