Towards the end of the night, this felt like a cruel poaching mission. The poor old Lions, shot, skinned and chucked in the back of a van. South Africa ran riot and, at times, those in red looked defenceless.
At one stage in the second half, away from the cameras, Damian de Allende stood over the top of Maro Itoje and threw dummy punches. It was reminiscent of the iconic moment when Bismarck du Plessis used the same bully boy tactics to intimidate Brian O’Driscoll back in 2009. It was retaliation to Itoje using his knee to pin down the centre. Tensions simmered, Lions glory was denied and the Springboks smashed their way back into the series.
In his post-match press conference Warren Gatland was peppered with questions about contentious refereeing decisions, Rassie Erasmus’s rants and how many of his misfiring players will survive the selection meeting for the decider. The answer? TBC but several may not be seen again.
The Lions’ hopes of sealing a famous Test series triumph were buried under an aerial onslaught from South Africa
The British and Irish Lions came off second best against a fearsome South Africa in a fractious second Test in Cape Town
South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe (No 14) was lucky to escape a red for taking out scrum-half Conor Murray (top) in the air
REF’S VIEW – ALAIN ROLAND – FORMER WORLD CUP FINAL REFEREE
When I saw the Cheslin Kolbe’s challenge on Conor Murray in real time, I thought it was a red card.
Having looked at the replays, I can see how the officials decided on yellow. If I showed this to a group of referees, it would split the room.
I thought the referee explained the decision well. In his view, it was all because of how Murray landed. His opinion was that he landed on his side. That, for him, was enough to turn the red yellow. However, I think the officials were wrong to award a try when Lukhanyo Am touched down.
The ball was in the air, so there had to be an element of control in the grounding. Am had to be in possession of the ball but at no point did he have the ball in his hands.
The referee gave the try because at no point did Am lose contact with the ball from when it was in the air to when it was grounded. But that does not mean he was in control of the ball.
South Africa’s bomb squad did their job. Tick, tick, boom. There were explosions all over the pitch — mostly blowing up in Lions’ faces. Lood de Jager was set loose like a man possessed, Malcolm Marx roamed the pitch like a biggame hunter and Trevor Nyakane stuck out his tongue in twisted elation as he scrummaged like a champion.
Every terse South African word exchanged during the week was backed up by a display of might and muscle. Perhaps Gatland should set up his own YouTube account and undergo a crash course in video editing. After all, it worked for his South African counterpart.
No fans were in the Cape Town Stadium to witness this second-half massacre, but the locals gathered in bars and restaurants as alcohol bans and 8pm curfews were lifted.
They flicked through local newspaper coverage that all had Erasmus’s back. ‘Rassie blows whistle on World Rugby’s archaic system,’ read the headline in the Weekend Argus. ‘It’s time for a rugby revolution,’ wrote the Daily Maverick.
With refereeing decisions under the spotlight, every one of Ben O’Keeffe decisions with picked through with a fine-tooth comb. Stoppage after stoppage. The first half went on for 63 minutes — the same length as Erasmus’s video — as every decision was debated with the Television Match Official.
‘The game was very slow with how often the clock was stopped,’ said Gatland. ‘They did a good job of slowing the game down which was frustrating because it was difficult to get rhythm. The referee was continually talking to them about trying to speed the game up and keep it moving. He was trying to stop the clock. So yeah that it is something we will look at raising next week in terms of how we get some more tempo in the game.’
Scrum after scrum churned up the pitch. The turf had taken a battering before the game had even started, as the ground churned up under the weight of South Africa’s warm-up scrums. The barked and grunted as they prepared for battle. Eben Etzebeth smashed one of the reserves onto his backside before kicking the tackle bag out the way and marching on like a man with a point to prove.
O’Keeffe warned both captains as early as the third minute. Alun-Wyn Jones and Etzebeth went eyeball to eyeball. Chris Harris landed early shots in midfield and talismanic flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit was forced off through injury as the Lions tried to quell any backlash from the first Test. For 40 minutes, the tourists stuck to task.
Murray was then hit hard by opposite man Faf de Klerk (No 9) in the tackle but the officials did not spend long looking at it
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi (second left) did superbly well to prevent a try from Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw (bottom)
The Lions went in three up at half-time after Dan Biggar (third right) made it 9-6 with this kick, with two from Handre Pollard
Springbok fly-half Pollard then floated a fine chip over the top for wing Makazole Mapimpi, who finished superbly for 11-9
Lukhanyo Am then extended the lead with this controversial try – ex-ref Nigel Owens saying he was not in control of the ball
They completed 52 out of 52 tackles, as Dan Biggar edged out Handre Pollard from the tee, to give them a 9-6 half-time lead. They were frustrated not to be further ahead. Perhaps Erasmus had got into O’Keeffe’s head, as several big calls went in the South Africans’s favour.
There was no question about Duhan van der Merwe’s yellow card for tripping Cheslin Kolbe. He felled winger with a lazy leg. If Kolbe roams the pitch like a hotstepping street dancer, his opposite man looked more like Ed Balls dancing the Paso Doble.
However, a few minutes later Kolbe himself was sin-binned — and was lucky to escape with a yellow card. ‘Shut up!’ shouted the Springbok coaching box as the small group of Lions reserves in the stands protested for Kolbe to be sent off for taking out Conor Murray in the air. They had a point.
Next O’Keeffe did not consult his TMO after Faf de Klerk flew at Murray with a wreckless blindside challenge, which could also have resulted in a red card.
Stand-off Pollard then kicked three late penalties to rub salt in Lions wounds as the match finished 27-9 to the Springboks
South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus (second left) will feel his comments on referees helped his side on Saturday
Then Robbie Henshaw had a try ruled out, after Siya Kolisi heroically got his hands underneath as he attempted to ground the ball. On a different day, the call could have gone a different way. The Lions led at half-time but the stop-start nature meant the fatigue-prone South Africans still had energy left in their legs.
Discipline crumbled. Their penalty count surged and that allowed the hosts to build a platform from their dominant lineout maul. They drove their way up the pitch like a heavyweight tank, while Pollard exposed the Lions back three with his kicking game. He pinged the ball behind Anthony Watson for Makazolo Mapimpi, who ran through Stuart Hogg to score.
‘We were quite happy at half-time but in the second half we just didn’t get into it really,’ said Gatland. ‘No momentum, no real opportunity to play, nothing at all from any of our kick returns, whether it was us or them. That was disappointing and we’ve probably given away some penalties. In fairness they scrummaged pretty well in the second half, drove a lot, and got some reward from that.’
The Lions back three struggled in the aerial battle. Watson took out Pollard in the air and gifted the Boks another lineout opportunity. This time Marx took control of the ball at the back, before wheeling infield. De Klerk threaded a kick through for Lukhanyo Am, who just about managed to ground the ball with his left hand, with millimetres of grass to spare.
The penalties kept coming. 21-9. 24-9. 27-9.What must Erasmus have made of it all? The mischievous plot writer didn’t even put himself up for media after the match. He had already said enough and now he will be laughing his way all the way into the series decider.
Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje and the Lions can have no complaints, as they were emphatically out-played in Cape Town
Want to catch up on the action as it happened? Follow Sportsmail‘s MAX MATHEWS’ live coverage of the second Test between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions.