Air thick with acrimony as Boks line up against B & I Lions in second Test
The air ahead of the second Test between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions is thick with acrimony‚ which is likely to be the prevailing atmosphere in which the clash will be played on Saturday.
The first Test produced much to talk about but equally the action in the build-up to both Tests have grabbed as many‚ if not more headlines.
Warren Gatland had a dig at Marius Jonker’s appointment as TMO and SA Rugby’s director of rugby‚ Rassie Erasmus‚ showed his indignation at officialdom’s folly in the first Test.
Erasmus was rightly fed up but opted for the sledgehammer when a master key could have done the same job. He will well recall how the Springboks’ far more subtler approach to what they deemed to be 17 refereeing blunders in the opening match of the most recent Rugby World Cup got them the desired result.
The olive branch won over the rosebush then‚ and by the time the final arrived Jérôme Garcès’ arm routinely pointed skyward‚ towards the Boks.
There will of course be no time for subtlety on Saturday. If they are required‚ the pre-match pep talks are likely to be remembered for their brevity.
Afterwards there will likely be scorn‚ condemnation and indignation but that is the battlefield to which rugby has become accustomed.
That of course does not make the task of referee Ben O’Keefe and his assistants Mathieu Raynal‚ and last week’s chief miscreant‚ Nic Berry‚ any easier.
Bok captain Siya Kolisi has confirmed that he felt disrespected by Berry last week. Thankfully‚ no crowds are allowed to attend these Tests.
Communication with the ref is perhaps another area in which the Springboks missed the hulking presence of Duane Vermeulen‚ who often engaged the match officials with his steely gaze at the World Cup.
When Kolisi approaches on Saturday‚ O’Keefe is likely to be all ears. The Bok captain confirmed the off-the-field stuff has made it a taxing build-up but that the team has taken a step-up in training‚ mindset and focus.
“It feels different to last week. It is similar to New Zealand‚ but this is different‚ we have to wait 12 years‚” Kolisi said in reference to tightrope the Boks had to walk at the World Cup after losing their opening game to the All Blacks in 2019.
The captain acknowledged his team have their backs to the wall to secure a series win. “If I said there would be no pressure I would be lying to you. This is why we do what we do and love what we do. For moments like this.”
To be fair the Lions expect the Boks to emerge from the tunnel with renewed energy and purpose. The Lions’ vastly experienced inside centre Robbie Henshaw needs no convincing the Springboks will bring fire and fury in an attempt to level the series.
“We won the first Test here in 2016. They came back to win. We must be ready to match their power and fire they will bring‚” said Henshaw about Ireland’s 2-1 series defeat.
“They will be more physical and they’ll bring something different. Maybe more touches on the ball for their dangerous men‚” warned Henshaw.
Equally there is the call from within the Lions group to redouble their efforts this week.
“There is a huge desire to back it up‚” said the centre. “Last week wasn’t perfect it was a huge arm wrestle. There is huge room for improvement from our side.
“It will be unbelievable to wrap it up in two series.”
Springboks - Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ Damian de Allende‚ Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard‚ Faf de Klerk; Jasper Wiese‚ Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ Siya Kolisi (captain); Franco Mostert‚ Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe‚ Bongi Nyakane‚ Steven Kitshoff.
Substitutes: Malcolm Marx‚ Trevor Nyakane‚ Vincent Koch‚ Lood de Jager‚ Marco van Staden‚ Kwagga Smith; Herschel Jantjies‚ Damian Willemse
Lions – Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England)‚ Chris Harris (Scotland)‚ Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)‚ Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland); Dan Biggar (Wales)‚ Conor Murray (Ireland); Jack Conan (Ireland)‚ Tom Curry (England)‚ Courtney Lawes (England); Alun Wyn Jones (captain‚ Wales)‚ Maro Itoje (England); Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)‚ Luke Cowan Dickie (England)‚ Mako Vunipola (England).
Substitutes: Ken Owens (Wales)‚ Rory Sutherland (Scotland)‚ Kyle Sinckler (England)‚ Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)‚ Taulupe Faletau (Wales); Ali Price (Scotland)‚ Owen Farrell (England)‚ Elliot Daly (England)
Referee: Ben O’Keefe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia)‚ Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)