Expect a vastly improved Springbok show in second British and Irish Lions Test
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DURBAN - There will always be disappointment when the Springboks lose a match, but there needs to be measured perspective on the first Test loss to the British & Irish Lions on Saturday.
Quite frankly, the Lions were always favourites to win this match because they were much better prepared.
It was former England centre Brad Barritt who pointed out that the Lions players had been playing a year of Test match rugby when most of the South Africans had been locked into one long Currie Cup.
The Boks were always going to be underdone going into the first Test and this was exacerbated by Covid-related disruptions over the last few weeks.
Almost half of the match-day 23 that lost to the Lions had tested positive for the virus and had been under quarantine in their hotel rooms at some time or another.
I am not an apologist for the Boks, nor am I detracting from the performance of the Lions, but let’s be fair, it is a minor miracle that the Boks took the field at all and it should be applauded that they were leading at half-time.
That was sheer guts, and they were always going to fade in the second half.
I am certain that the Boks will be much improved in the second Test because they will be better prepared on a number of counts.
It is very difficult to go from beating England in the World Cup final, to 20 months later playing the best of Britain and Ireland having had just one warm-up against Georgia.
Historically, the way Lions tours work is they get better as the Test series progresses because they are a collective that needs game time. That is not going to change – the Lions will be slicker in the second Test – but I think the Boks will be vastly improved.
One of the big talking points prior to the game was the selection of a ‘second-string’ front row for the Boks, with heavyweights Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe tasked with making a big impact off the bench to counter the anticipated strong finish from the Lions in the final quarter.
Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and especially Trevor Nyakane were under the spotlight all week, but at half-time the critics were silenced.
Nche had been superb, and Mbonambi was very good as always, while Nyakane not only scrummed well but won some important turnovers.
The “bomb squad” of Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Malherbe did not detonate when they came on.
The mitigating circumstance would be that the Lions came out a different side after a half-time roasting from coach Warren Gatland and perhaps the original front row would also have lost their lustre given the Lions’ vast escalation in performance in the second half.
I was not surprised in the least that the Boks lost the first Test given their rustiness, but I will be if they lose this week.