Saturday, 27 June 2009

Springboks win Test series against the Lions!

Andries Bekker congratulates Morné Steyn after his winning kickThe South African Springboks won the Test series against the British and Irish Lions in dramatic fashion today after an intense battle in the second Test. This was rugby at its best with both sides never giving up. Morné Steyn, coming on as substitute towards the end won the battle with a cool penalty in the last minute of the match. Final score: SA 28 B&I Lions 25

First half

There was a fantastic atmosphere at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria with a sea of green & gold Bok jerseys and a red wave of Lions jerseys around the stadium.

The match started off badly for the Springboks when flanker Schalk Burger (in his 50th Test) was sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes for eye-gouging, after a moment of sheer insanity. This put all the pressure on the Springboks since they were left with 14 men on the field. At this level, losing a player makes a huge difference and the Lions took the opportunity and scored 10 points during that time. Burger was cited after the match and could face a lengthy ban.

A few minutes the Springboks hit back with a well-worked try by winger JP Pietersen, scoring off a good lineout ball. However, the Lions did most of the playing in the first half and dominated possession. Halftime score was SA 8 Lions 16.

Second half

The Springboks woke up in the second half and started a great comeback to eventually take control of the match. Winger Habana scored a superb try with 20 minutes to go after a well-worked set piece. Centre Jaque Fourie also scored a great try about 10 minutes later, having to work hard for the try carrying a few players with him over the tryline. The decision was up to the TMO and he decided there was no evidence that the player stepped over the sideline and the try was awarded. Flyhalf Morné Steyn kicked a difficult conversion to make it 25 - 22, with the Boks taking the lead for the first time in the match.

In the last minute Lions replacement Ronan O'Gara took Habana out in the air and a penalty was awarded, which Steyn converted to win the match. An epic moment for him and the team, since that kick clinched the series win.

Bok flyhalf Pienaar had an off-day and missed a few penalties which put a lot of pressure on the Boks. Jaque Fourie showed his class (again) and quite frankly, he proved he's the best no. 13 in the country and should start for the Boks instead of Adi Jacobs, who again couldn't deal with the physical presence of the Lions centres.

There were a few off-the-ball incidents and even though lock Bakkies "The Enforcer" Botha is a tough customer he was a bit over-zealous today. He was also cited after the match for dirty play. However, after seeing the replay I thought this particular citing was unwarranted because Botha was simply clearing out the ruck (which is allowed) with a big shoulder charge and Welsh prop Adam Jones got injured in the process. Off-the-ball incidents did unfortunately somewhat sour what otherwise was a great spectacle of rugby.

Players who stood out

Fullback Kearney, lock Shaw and flyhalf Jones had great games for the Lions. Brian O'Driscoll's experience showed and he clearly was the talisman for the Lions. Unfortunately he seems to lose focus since he tends to eagerly participate in the off-the-ball incidents as well, which is a pity. Boks that stood out were lock Matfield who again dominated the lineouts, hooker Du Plessis (who unfortunately had one moment of madness when he took the penalty himself instead of just adding more points on the board through a penalty kick), wingers Habana and Pietersen with great tries each, scrumhalf Du Preez for an allround good performance and the replacement flanker Brüssow who again was brilliant (and should be a shoe-in as fetcher for upcoming Tests), and of course flyhalf Morné Steyn who stayed calm during the last 10 minutes and slotted the winning penalty under immense pressure.

Again Springboks coach, Peter de Villiers, made me frown with his tactics because in the second half the referee decided there should be uncontested scrums since both Lions props left the field with injury. The coach then inexplicably left the props on the field, where the obvious step was to replace both props with faster players who would have enhanced the Boks' chances to dominate possession.


South Africa (8) 28: Tries by JP Pietersen (11 min), Bryan Habana (62 min), Jaque Fourie (73 min). Francois Steyn kicked a penalty and Morné Steyn two conversions and two penalties.

B&I Lions (16) 25: Try by Rob Kearney (6 min). Stephen Jones kicked a conversion, five penalties and a dropped goal.

Final thoughts

The Springboks showed good character and handled the pressure better when it mattered most and that made all the difference. It was a close contest but in the end the Springboks deserved to win the series. Apart from winning the Rugby World Cup, playing against the Lions is a dream for all Springboks and this series win will undoubtedly be remembered for years to come, by players and supporters alike.

Press coverage

I always make a point of reading the rugby articles from news sources originating in the country of the opposition to get a more balanced view on the games.

However, trying to find objectivity in the British press has proved to be (mostly) unsuccessful. You'd think the british sides won every match they played throughout the year, if you look at the way the subjective rugby journos carried on! Unbelievable. Stephen Jones (from Times Online) in particular does not have a clue; he clearly is a tabloid journalist at best with his main focus to irritate, instead of reporting on the game itself.

However, this article by Stuart Barnes (who also writes for Times Online) was a breath of fresh air simply because it's objective and a good reflection on the Lions' efforts on this tour.

If you want a good laugh at complete lack of objectivity, read the BBC 606 rugby forums for some proper one-eyed british support. "We could have, should have won" seems to be the trend throughout. You have to smile.

The final test is on Saturday, 4 July in Johannesburg (Ellispark) at 15h00 (GMT+2).


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