Saturday, 20 June 2009

Springboks narrowly wins first Test vs Lions

Final whistle - Springboks win first Test against the British & Irish LionsThe South African Springboks won a nailbiting encounter today in Durban when they beat the British & Irish Lions in the first Test by 26 - 21.

The first half was dominated by the Boks and the South African front-row held their own very well. Loosehead Springbok prop, Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira, mauled and bullied his opponent, Phil Vickery, who eventually was substituted five mins into the second half. Boks lock, Victor Matfield, also dominated the lineouts and stole several balls from the opposition.

Comfortable lead

The Springboks had a commanding halftime lead of 19 - 7 after an early try by captain John Smit, three penalties by flyhalf Ruan Pienaar (who I thought had a great game considering his long injury lay-off), and one penalty by Francois Steyn. In the second half this lead increased to a comfortable 26 - 7 after some great rolling mauls by the Springboks and a try by flanker Heinrich Brüssow.

The comeback

Then everything changed... the Lions decided to play some rugby and the Springboks' lack of match fitness also started to show. The Lions dominated possession and during the last 12 minutes of the match the Lions reduced the scoreline to 26 - 21 through tries by flanker Tom Croft and scrumhalf Mike Phillips. A great comeback by the Lions but it was a case of too little, too late.

The Lions squandered two try-scoring opportunities and where stopped by great defence by the South Africans. Bok centre Jean de Villiers put in a spectacular defensive effort by getting his arm under the ball when Lions winger Monye went over over the tryline.

When the Springboks lead 26 - 7, coach Peter de Villiers made a substitution but... then he went on to substitute everyone!? A very naive move, showing a bit of arrogance since that implied he thought the game was already won. Also, substituting the captain John Smit in particular, was a bad move. The Boks went into a lull and although they defended well, they should have persisted with their own game plan and put the result beyond doubt.

Final thoughts

The Lions can take a lot out of this match; they can compete with the world champions, they gave away far too many unnecessary penalties and know that prop Vickery should not face the Springboks again, he was really woeful in the scrums. The Lions were clearly fitter towards the end of the match, showing that their warm-up matches obviously contributed to their cohesion. However, the second and third Test will be played at altitude and this should favour the home team.

I expect the Springboks to be much stronger next week since they clearly lost focus during the last quarter and hopefully someone will also give Pierre Spies a wake-up call, since he was invisible today. The Boks should also be fitter and the cohesion better.

The second Test is next week Saturday, 27 June in Pretoria (Loftus Versfeld) at 15h00 (GMT+2).


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