It’s been quite a week leading into the second test. All the well-publicised and controversial behaviour by the Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus led me to believe that his team would be adversely affected, and fall short of victory for the second week running. How wrong I was.
I thought the Lions’ confidence would be high and they would get an emphatic win to wrap up the series with a game to spare. Warren Gatland tinkered with his team and made three changes to the side. A little fine-tuning to finish the job.
Predictably, Elliot Daly lost his place in the starting fifteen to Chris Harris. Daly had a tough time in the first test. After being smashed early on by Lukhanyo Am, he had a poor game.
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland’s selections didn’t work out in the second Test
In the second test, Daly’s replacement Harris returned the favour and showed Am that he was facing more of a physical challenge. He also showed some slick handling later in the game and may have done enough to keep his place at centre.
Replacing Rory Sutherland with Mako Vunipola appeared to pay off as well. Vunipola did well in the scrum in the first half, and made some hard yards in the loose. I thought the starting front row as a whole did all that was asked of them, and should start the third test.
For me the inclusion of Conor Murray didn’t work. He was brought back into the side for his box kicking, but the quality he provided for the chasers was low. It wasn’t all his fault – the Lions were well below par in the air and lost that battle with the Springboks.
Conor Murray’s box kicks were well dealt with by South Africa as the Springboks dominated the aerial battles
I still think Ali Price should be the starting scrum half – he offers quicker service and is more of a threat around the fringes. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s recalled next week.
The back three had a game to forget. As mentioned previously, their ability to regain possession in the air wasn’t good enough. Putting the ball in the air appeared to be the Lions’ primary attacking weapon and it didn’t work.
I’m surprised that Gregor Townsend opted for this. Not his style at all. It was a very limited game plan and didn’t trouble the Springboks, but the Lions persisted with it. I only recall one moment where some quick hands by the Lions threatened the Bok’s defence, but there just wasn’t enough of it.
Fly-half Dan Biggar is under pressure to keep his place for the third test with Finn Russell and Owen Farrell waiting for their first starts of the series
For the second week running Dan Biggar wasn’t at his best. Like Conor Murray, his kicking from hand was mixed. When you put the ball in the air, you need a kick that challenges the defenders but allows your chasers to compete. Unfortunately too many were too short for any territorial gain, or too long to give the chasers the chance to challenge for the ball.
If he’s fit, maybe Finn Russell should be given the opportunity to add something different to this team. For me Owen Farrell is too similar to Dan Biggar and won’t be the point of difference that’s needed.
Apart from a few notable exceptions, too many of the Lions went missing in this game. Those players won’t need to be told by the coaches that they didn’t perform, and they will hope that they get the chance to put things right next week.
Russell was an injury doubt earlier in the series, but he’s been back in training and will be pushing to feature in the decider
For the second week running Maro Itoje was immense. He worked tirelessly and dominated the South Africans in the lineout in the first half. Alun Wyn Jones worked hard alongside him but the captain wasn’t able to lead his team to victory this time.
Far from being distracted, the Springboks grew as the game went on, and strangled the life out of the Lions in the second half. Concerns over fitness and cohesion were unfounded. After the break, they offered a set piece masterclass.
The scrum was strong, the lineout clicked and their ferocity at the breakdown paid off. They got their substitutions right and added to the performance; much like the Lions bench did last week. Next week, the Springboks will be even better.
South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus (second right) made several controversial remarks about the quality of refereeing leading up to the second test
Gatland will no doubt be making changes for the third and final test. I think the centre pairing will remain intact, as will the front and second rows. Changes must be made to the halfbacks, and I’d like him to consider Taulupe Faletau in the back row. Liam Williams has to start somewhere in the back three as well.
The biggest change I would like to see as a Lions fan is the style of play. They are talented players who have on occasion looked dangerous with the ball in hand. I want to see more of that in this last test, to really try and stretch the Springboks.
This was the game where the Lions had the best chance of wrapping things up. Now they have to do it the hard way, against a Springbok team who are full of confidence. But the Lions have the players who can clinch the series, and it promises to be an epic final test.
Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones will be hoping to make his 12th Lions test appearance in the third match on Saturday