Lions bracing for backlash from Boks in pivotal 2nd test
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Backlash is the word of the week in Cape Town.
The Springboks expect to dish it on Saturday, and the British and Irish Lions expect to handle it.
The rugby series pivots on their second test on Saturday at an empty Cape Town Stadium.
A South Africa win sends the series to a deciding third test next week.
A Lions win seals a fifth series victory in the republic alongside tours in 1891, 1896, 1974 and 1997.
For the world champion Springboks, victory was demanded as soon as fulltime was blown last Saturday when they lost 22-17 from 12-3 up at halftime.
“It is do or die,” coach Jacques Nienaber said.
He’s brought in props Steven Kitshoff for his 50th cap and Frans Malherbe and English-based No. 8 Jasper Wiese to try and fix a scrum that crumbled in the second half, and to cut the error rate. Nienaber also reinstated a six-two forwards-backs split in the reserves, reviving the Bomb Squad ploy that was successfully used in the last Rugby World Cup.
The backline that created three tries and was awarded only one was left alone. Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk promised they will “definitely come back with a bit more fire in our belly, a bit more anger.” Fix their discipline and contestable aerial balls and ”we should be all good going forward.”
The last time the Lions were in position to win a second test and series in South Africa was in 1997, when coach Ian McGeechan produced a team talk that has gone down in Lions lore, thanks to being captured on video. McGeechan told the players to be special for the rest of their lives by winning.
He also told them: “We’ve wounded a springbok. When an animal is wounded it returns in frenzy. It doesn’t think. It fights for its very existence. The lion waits, and at the right point, it goes for the jugular.”
Current coach Warren Gatland has been similarly emotive. After the win last weekend, he spoke on the field, at the news conference, and at the team announcement about the Springboks hurting, how they were a proud side and will be desperate.
Gatland also told his team not to waste this chance to clinch the series.
“You don’t want to be using your get-out-of-jail card by going to the third test, you want to make the most of the opportunity we’ve created,” he said.
In anticipation of the Springboks’ response, he’s brought in three-tour veterans Mako Vunipola, Conor Murray and Taulupe Faletau for first-timers Rory Sutherland Ali Price and Hamish Watson. First-time Lion Chris Harris is at center for the off-color Elliot Daly. Flyhalf Dan Biggar is trusted after passing concussion checks.
The Lions aimed to run the coronavirus-stifled Springboks ragged last weekend in the first half but they were pinned down and struggled. Vunipola, Murray, Faletau and other stalwarts came in and their fire-resistant composure and experience helped the Lions reset in the second half, turn the pressure back on South Africa, and launch a stunning comeback.
Gatland is counting on his veterans’ cool heads to prevail again and not make the sluggish starts they have endured in their two biggest tour games: They trailed 12-3 in the first test, and 17-3 against South Africa A, a shadow Springboks side. Nine points they could overcame, but not 14.
There’s a feeling the Lions, for all their seemingly superior conditioning, must win this weekend as the Springboks are quietly working their way back into match fitness while director of rugby Rassie Erasmus tries to stubbornly distract with rants about unfavorable refereeing.
The Springboks say they have much more to give, but the Lions are equally adamant they have yet to fire their best shots.
Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones, who played in the losing 2009 series, said, “We do feel we’ve got a few gears to go up.”
South Africa: 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 Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Damian Willemse.
British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Chris Harris, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Danny Biggar, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Tadhg Furlong, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Taulupe Faletau, Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports