Use of replacements in ‘colossal contest’ lifts Boks to series win

2009-06-29 00:00

THIS time the use of Springbok replacements worked a treat and fresh faces introduced in the final quarter of the second Test at Loftus played a major role in sealing the series with a 28-25 win over the British Lions.

But while South African supporters were toasting the heroics of Morné Steyn and Jaque Fourie, the British Lions were questioning the Springbok approach, with scrumhalf Mike Phillips launching a bitter attack on their “dirty play”.

“It was disgusting out there,” Phillips told a group of mostly British rugby writers after the Test.

“There was gouging, punching off the ball. We were the better team and we should have won. The eye-gouging [by Schalk Burger] in the first half should have been a red card. And that would have been the match right there.”

Bok captain John Smit, in contrast, described it as “a colossal contest, a real Test match”.

The Lions saw the Test as one they had lost rather than a Bok victory and made no mention of the superb Springbok fightback, which saw them outscore the tourists by three tries to one and turn a 8-19 deficit going into the last quarter into a 28-25 win.

The Boks won the Test with the final kick of the game, a 55-metre penalty by Morné Steyn.

“I just went back to the basics,” said Steyn of the prodigious kick. When I struck it, I knew it was over.”

But the win was made possible by the committed Springbok forwards, who took charge in the second half and established the platform for two late tries by Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie.

While the late substitutions by the Boks in Durban almost handed the first Test to the Lions, the introduction of Steyn, Fourie and flank Heinrich Brüssow on Saturday lifted the South Africans at a critical stage.

The Lions had done their homework after the first Test and they enjoyed the edge in the scrums until injuries to both their props, Gethin Jenkins (cracked cheekbone) and Adam Jones (dislocated shoulder) led to uncontested scrums after just six minutes in the second half. The Boks held the slight lineout advantage, but the mood and flow of the game was decided at the breakdown, where the Lions were stronger and more organised in the first half before the Boks improved significantly in the second.

There was a more solid look to the Boks’ midfield defence, but it was the ability of their backs to take their scoring chances — for tries by JP Pietersen, Habana and Fourie — which proved critical.

There will be changes to both teams for the third Test. Lions props Jenkins and Jones are out, while backs Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Tommy Bowe and Ronan O’Gara are also on the injured list.

South African interest will centre on the choice between Ruan Pienaar and Morné Steyn at flyhalf.

On the evidence of the first two Tests, Steyn is certainly the form player and Pienaar may well be used off the bench at Ellis Park. The Boks will be without the suspended Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha while Jean de Villiers is also expected to be sidelined by injury.

Certainly Brüssow, like Steyn, looks sharp and in compelling form and he deserves to start, while the Boks will have been encouraged by the showing of the two wings, Pietersen and Habana, the sublime Fourie du Preez, the inspiration and composure of Smit and the improvement in the Bok pack in the second half.

The Lions, who looked slick and highly organised in the first half, kicked away far too much possession in the second. And, in contrast to the Springboks, it was one of their replacements, Ronan O’Gara, who made the critical late errors which cost them the Test. First the Irish flyhalf was brushed aside as Fourie scored the Boks’ third try and then, inside the last minute with the scores locked at 25-25 and the Lions still in the series, he made the fatal decision that will stay with him for the rest of his days. Fielding a deep Morné Steyn kick close to his line, he elected to run the ball out of his own 22-metre area — instead of kicking to touch — booted an up-and-under and then recklessly crashed into Du Preez to concede the penalty which decided the Test and the series.

It was as close as that.

Page 18: More Springbok rugby.

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