British & Irish Lions bracing for a Springboks backlash
The British & Irish Lions expect the Springboks to be fuelled by desperation as the latter hope to avoid a series defeat at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
Having gone one-nil up in the series‚ the Lions are now dictating terms and that as expected has handed them the advantage of being one step ahead.
The onus is now on the Springboks to react. They are now forced to seek mechanisms that will improve performance and making changes in personnel is the most obvious tool available to them but the tourists seem to have that covered.
Even before the Springboks announced their team for the second Test‚ the Lions perhaps in a show of one upmanship after they were beaten to the team announcement punch last week‚ had laid their cards on the table.
Mako Vunipola doesn't immediately strike you as the kind of prop that falls into the stable of even temperament‚ reliable‚ or even consistent. He is driven by more beastly instincts and it is exactly that Lions coach Warren Gatland is hoping the England veteran will take with him on their commute from outside Hermanus to Green Point on Saturday.
Vunipola may concede a few penalties but when there is a call to arms‚ you want him shoulder to shoulder. Moreover‚ from a technical perspective he appeared to have taken valuable lessons from the last Rugby World Cup final.
In midfield too‚ the Lions have opted to fortify. Chris Harris brings more ruggedness to a channel that is likely to see an increase in heavy traffic on Saturday. The Springboks will likely be driven by more primal instincts and by going as hard and as direct as they possibly can‚ the midfield will become a highly contested battle ground.
Elliot Daly makes way for Harris‚ but his presence on the bench still leaves Gatland the option of deploying a potential match winner for when the climax arrives. Daly's hands bring finesse but it is his Howitzer left boot that can deliver a decisive blow. He just needs to land one to leave the Boks in ruin.
Also on the bench is the‚ albeit artillery range‚ kicking talent of Owen Farrell. His tactical kicking can again prove a huge asset for the Lions.
Ditto at scrumhalf where Gatland has opted to steel his side with a grizzled‚ six foot (1.88m) plus framed operator with unflappable temperament. Just like Ali Price did last week‚ Ireland's Conor Murray will take huge responsibility in advancing the Lions by going the aerial route. They opt to kick from the base and their chase lines are generally in sync.
Gatland and the Lions expect the Boks to be up the middle and direct‚ but there must also be the nagging feeling the talents of wings Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi will not be underutilised again.