Boks can seal place among greats to have worn the Green and Gold
The most unique British & Irish Lions series will conclude on Saturday with the result‚ perhaps fittingly‚ as nail-bitingly in the balance as a Covid-19 test.
Like their predecessors in 2009 the world champion Springboks have the opportunity to add a Lions’ scalp‚ and given their lack of preparation victory will cement their place among the great teams that have simultaneously worn the Green and Gold.
For the Boks‚ who bar one Test had been inactive since they won the Rugby World Cup in 2019‚ Saturday's clash is also an opportunity to take firmer grip of their place at the top of World Rugby’s rankings.
The tourists too will go into the decider with a slice of history very much in their crosshairs.
Coach Warren Gatland could complete a trifecta of consecutive unbeaten Lions’ series‚ to Australia‚ New Zealand and South Africa‚ which will rank most favourably in the pantheon of coaching overachievement.
With so little time to prepare they had to lean heavily on what worked for them during the World Cup. The cohesion and coherence in team structure‚ with a fair smack of physicality helped make up ground lost in the first Test with their show of force in the second.
While the Lions have sought ways to improve by perhaps mixing things up this weekend‚ the Springboks will play to a familiar script. For them it is ‘more of the same’‚ which pretty much characterised the way they went about their business in Japan.
Invoking the spirit that helped carry them to that title has been paramount in this series.
“It is similar but also different to World Cup because for some of us we won’t get this opportunity again‚” noted captain Siya Kolisi on the eve of the deciding Test.
“We want to make sure that’s the mentality throughout the team. We are in a unique position. This is our final‚” he added.
The Boks couldn’t go ‘more of the same’ in selection and will miss cogs that proved so vital in their march to World Cup glory. Scrumhalf dynamo Faf de Klerk and behemoth flank Pieter-Steph du Toit have yielded to injury and will play no part.
“They will be two big losses for them‚ they are both world-class players and can have a big impact on the match. They definitely will be a loss‚” observed Lions coach Warren Gatland.
In the first Test and the first quarter of the second‚ the Lions more than matched the Boks in the arm wrestle. The Boks’ physicality then took its toll particularly once the Bomb Squad was deployed after the break. There is no Bomb Squad this week but Franco Mostert provides reassuring bulk on the side of the scrum.
The Lions will also seek improvement in the set piece and the introduction of the fit-again loosehead prop Wyn Jones they hope offers redress.
“Simplicity‚ discipline and accuracy‚” Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones noted the virtues they seek in the decider. “The set piece and keeping down the penalty count that went against us last week‚” he added.
While the Boks with their python-like method will seek to suffocate the Lions‚ the tourists are less agoraphobic and will be desperate to explore the wide open spaces.
“We have to maintain the tempo of game‚” said the captain. “If we can do that we can stay away from anything that might slow us down.”
Last week they lost the collisions‚ the hard yards and the referee’s undivided attention. The Lions have a lot to recapture‚ but win or lose‚ their relevance doesn’t rank among it.
Springboks - Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ Damian de Allende‚ Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard‚ Cobus Reinach; Jasper Wiese‚ Franco Mostert‚ Siya Kolisi (captain); Lood de Jager‚ Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe‚ Bongi Mbonambi‚ Steven Kitshoff. Substitutes: Malcolm Marx‚ Trevor Nyakane‚ Vincent Koch‚ Marco van Staden‚ Kwagga Smith; Herschel Jantjies‚ Morne Steyn‚ Damian Willemse.
B & I Lions - Liam Williams (Wales); Josh Adams (Wales)‚ Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)‚ Bundee Aki (Ireland)‚ Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)‚ Dan Biggar (Wales)‚ Ali Price (Scotland); Jack Conan (Ireland)‚ Tom Curry (England)‚ Courtney Lawes (England); Alun Wyn Jones (captain‚ Wales)‚ Maro Itoje (England); Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)‚ Ken Owens (Wales)‚ Wyn Jones (Wales). Substitutes: Luke Cowan-Dickie (England)‚ Mako Vunipola (England)‚ Kyle Sinckler (England)‚ Adam Beard (Wales)‚ Sam Simmonds (England); Conor Murray (Ireland)‚ Finn Russell (Scotland)‚ Elliot Daly (England).
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia)‚ Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)