Jacques Nienaber’s Springbok side beat the British & Irish Lions 19-16 in a nail bitting series finale, that needed a last minute More Steyn to clinch it on Saturday evening in Cape Town.
In a tightly contested fixture, which saw very little able to separate the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions side, it would prove a moment of de ja vu for many a supporter who would’ve witnessed Steyn’s 2009 series winning penalty, as he came on to do a similar job 12 years later.
The match proceedings began with Springbok inside centre Damian de Allende leading out the side on his own, to mark his landmark 50th Test cap in the prestigious green and gold colours, and what an occasion it was to mark such a milestone for the World Cup winner.
With the Springboks having lost nippy scrum half Fat de Klerk to an injury last week, many questions were asked regarding the conditions his replacement Cobus Reinach would be expected to play under. If there were any suspicions that, the team game plan would be altered to suit the Montpellier half back who is known to thrive more on running rather than disciplined and “tight” rugby, they were quickly answered by the player himself. With the Lions pinning the Boys into their 22, he Reinach was more than happy to use the box kick to clear the danger with under a minute on the clock.
It would be the Springboks who would be blown for the first penalty of the game, Jasper Wiese accidentally playing on in front of the infringing player after a knock on. Luckily for him and the home side, that error would bare no consequences as Welsh flyhalf Dan Biggar missed the opportunity to give the Lions an early lead, with his effort off the cone not going according to plan, as it drifted wide.
It would prove to be a similar situation for the Springboks as they fluffed their lines (literally) with hooker Bongi Mbonambi adjudged to have made a skew throw to spurn the Boks’ plan to earn a rolling maul from their first penalty of the of the game. The Lions were showed their intent early on, with players looking to carry big, but the two monster hits from a green and gold wall quickly smashed them backwards. The scrums, which are always expected to be a critical component of a fixture billed to be a close affair, were evenly matched during the first half with not much being penalised on either side
The first signs of Springbok innovation started to show as they started playing some quick, end to end, enterprising play which almost saw them into the opposition 5m line before Mbonambi knock on. That would, unfortunately for those backing the home side be the last time they would see their team throwing the ball around, with that being contrary to what the Lions were seemingly entrusted to do.
The Lions would then see themselves losing flyhalf Biggar which forced them to make a change just after a ten minutes. Coach Warren Gatland then had no choice but to prematurely call upon his would be “trump card” for later in Finn Russell.
It would take all of 12 minutes to witness the first points of the game, with Handre Pollard slotting over a three pointer. Russell would then prove his worth by slotting over an equaliser for the Lions, making it 3-3. The Lions would then show their intent early on when they earned another penalty in the Springbok half, with skipper Alun Wyn Jones opting to go for the line backing the Lions line out and rolling maul instead of going for a further three pointer. That would prove to be an inspired decision by the experienced Welshman, earning his 12th cap for the Lions, as he saw his charges overpower the Springboks for a five pointer from a successful rolling maul and earning the games first try. Russell had no problems converting from the cone, 3-10 it was to the Lions after 20 minutes.
It would prove to be advantage Lions with regards to the physical battle upfront, as they managed to keep the Springbok rolling maul at bay and ineffective throughout the first half. The Boks areal kicking game was not proving to be that effective either with Pollard’s kicks often going a tad too far ahead of their chasers and falling into the welcome arms of a Lions player who would be too happy to call a mark with.
The Lions would then have a second attempt at a rolling maul with Jones obviously encouraged by what he would’ve seen in the try scoring initial maul. It would prove to not yield the same results this time around, however, as Tom Curry was adjudged to have detached from the original maul, offering the Springboks a welcome reprieve.
Pollard would then aim for the touchline in an attempt to se up a rolling maul out of their half, but Springboks would fail at the first attempt with Mbonambi again penalised for a skew throw. It was proving to not be the best half for the new Sharks signing who is usually synonymous with doing the basics right, with that attribute a huge factor in his consistent selection as the team’s first choice hooker.
That skew throw would earn the Lions a scrum in a good position which they used to generate front foot ball that would see them back into Springbok 22. De Allende, who is known for his solidity proved to value with a sharp steal on the ground, allowing the Springboks yet another escape. The Springboks failed to garner any type of momentum in the first half, however, as too many handling errors saw them stuck in their blocks
The Springboks did win a crucial scrum penalty in the 35th minute, and looked to finish the half strongly with a shot at the posts. Pollard would make no mistake with as he reduced the deficit to four, 6-10 it was. The Lions would then earn a scrum penalty almost immediately, and again Jones would instruct Russell to go for the touchline in another attempt of a rolling maul. This time they would lose their line out but luckily the Springboks would also knock the ball on, resulting in another Lions scrum and more pressure inside the half of the hosts. After exerting pressure, captain fantastic Siya Kolisi came through with an impressive steal. The teams would then go into the interval with the visitors leading 6-10.
It would be the Springboks who started the strongest of the two sides, winning the first scrum penalty, but the ensuing rolling maul would again be thwarted by the Lions. The game was halted momentarily as enforcer Eben Etzebeth was treated on the pitch for what looked liked a potential neck injury. He would quickly get back up to his feet though and win a line out for the home side.
Pollard would then miss two more penalties in a tightly contested affair, which would have undoubtedly increased the nerves of everyone associated to the Springboks. But they would soon be made to jump out of their seat, when a moment of magic saw Willie Le Roux break away before sending the elusive speedster Cheslin Kolbe down the line. Kolbe still had a lot to do, beating two opponents before powering over the try in the corner. Pollard would convert, putting the Boks in the lead again over the Lions 13-10 it was after a lengthy TMO check with 60 minutes gone.
It wouldn’t take too long after the restart for the Lions to get an opportunity to get back on level terms, as they won a quick penalty. That would then prove to be the cue for the introduction of two British & Irish Lions series’ More Steyn. He would be called into action almost immediately as he was required to slot over a penalty soon after the 65th minute, regaining the lead for the Springboks. 16-13 it was going into last ten minutes.
The Lions then equalised after 74 minutes in this seesaw battle with the Springboks, that was screaming out for a decisive moment. it would eventually come with Steyn slotting a penalty in front of the posts to give the Boks the lead heading into the last minute of the game. The Boks would then survive a last minute scrum in a central area of the pitch, which would in turn result in yet another scrum Penalty on their side. The Springboks who had the best of the scrum battles in the second half eventually held out to claim a 19-16 victory and subsequently a 2-1 series victory over the Lions.