I am not going anywhere near contentious first Test decisions; the video questioning of match officials etcetera. It has been done by dozens already. When all is said and done, what happened cannot be changed. The Lions won.
There is a new referee for this match. What damage has been done by all the commenting by team officials and pundits, we don’t know.
The Lions’ first Test starting pack was heavier than the Bok eight; the Springboks don’t have the monopoly on “massive” forwards. The Lions gave away nothing in terms of fronting up to the physical challenge, despite an overall lacklustre first half from the tourists.
A game of two halves it was, and the crux was that the Lions were able to adapt and improve whereas the Boks weren’t. The Lions were able to right their wrongs of the first half in convincing fashion.
The Boks were neither able to take their world-renowned intensity to a new level nor were they able to sustain the intensity that they had managed to build in the first half. The Lions are fitter.
There are Covid-related reasons, yes, matches played and matches cancelled, yes, the worst possible Bok build-up to a Lions series ever, yes, but it doesn’t change the reality facing the Boks in this Saturday’s second Test.
An enduring mystery is how little an impact the Boks’ much-vaunted bomb squad front-row had when they entered the fray immediately after half-time. They could not reverse the gathering Lions momentum.
The Boks’ starting front-row, in contrast, were outstanding – and that dominance played a significant role in the momentum that generated a 12-3 half-time lead. We can only hope there will be a sustained effort over the full spectrum of the second Test match.
The bottom line is, the team that is better able to limit its penalties conceded (especially the unforced penalties in goal-kicking areas) will likely win a close Test match. And that is very closely linked to who dominates at scrum time, and therefore who is able to establish momentum.
The first-half penalty count belonged to the Boks. The second-half penalty count was a Lions landslide. The penalty count was determined by who was in control of the game. The team that is most disciplined, in not giving away soft penalties; this will be key.
The Lions also redirected their kicking game in the second half, punting the ball higher and a little shorter, distance-wise, which enabled more hanging time and hence more competitive kick-chases.
In the first half, the Lions were generally awkward and the composed Boks looked to be cruising to victory, but critically the men in green and gold didn’t punch home that advantage with a try or two. Marginal decisions in this match played a role, but however you look at it, the Boks need to create more try-scoring chances.
It was only in the second half that a put-upon South Africa seriously looked like scoring – and that came from situations where they were improvising in the moment. The Boks were forced by game situations to step out of their comfort zone and improvise. More of this is needed… this is an instinctively, naturally, talented Bok back three. Use them more.
As mentioned, match fitness was a key factor; the Lions are definitely in better physical condition than the Boks. The Covid problems in the Bok camp leading into the Test severely impacted their ability to last the pace in the second half, whereas the Lions just seemed to be getting stronger and stronger.
I fear that, with just 7 days between Tests it leaves no time to close this gap sufficiently enough to nullify the marked advantage that the tourists have in this facet.
Granted, and as mentioned, there were the tiniest of margins in several potentially match-altering moments but my prevailing feeling is that the Lions ultimately deserved the first Test win.
A critical factor, alluded to above, is that, between them, our match-winning wings hardly got the ball; barely a handful of times; in 80 minutes. There have to be ways found to include them more. They are major weapons in the Bok armoury.
And there is no superstar in number 8 Duane Vermeulen to give us renewed hope. His injury-enforced absence was never more evident than in the first Test.
My feeling on the second Test is that it is for the Lions to lose. They are in the pound seats right now.
A solid physical and tactical performance should be enough for the Lions this Saturday (and I hope I am wrong) whereas the Boks have a number of gears to change in order to get things right and level the series.
The first half will be crucial. The Lions will not give an inch physically. Somehow, the Boks will have to impose themselves on this match. It is going to take intelligence and power. Our men in green and gold must find a way. Key moments must be won.
It is a tantalising prospect. Bok win please.