Lions player ratings: Springboks win error battle in game defined by box kicks

This was not a game for people who liked free-flowing attacking rugby. The first half alone was one hour and three minutes long - the exact length of Rassie Erasmus’ infamous video, weirdly enough
Lions player ratings: Springboks win error battle in game defined by box kicks

The British & Irish Lions' Jack Conan comes up against Damian de Allende of South Africa. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

When the whistle went for the kick-off, a sense of relief washed over the game as a whole. Or maybe that was just me. Once that whistle went the nonsense of the build-up was over and, man, there was some real nonsense this week. 

The Lions have always carried a sense of prestige about them, rightly or wrongly. Maybe I’m buying into the marketing hype there but the one thing the Lions have always brought is a sense of scale. 

The build-up to this weekend’s game has been closer to what you’d expect from Youtuber boxing. Alleged burner accounts on Twitter, yellow circles flying around like a Sonic the Hedgehog game with middle-aged men, hour-long documentaries about how the referee rode you being released accidentally on purpose on Vimeo - this is your Everest, boys.

Could the match itself live up to the worst build-up to a game of this scale in living memory? By default, yes, whatever happened would be better than the build-up even if the first five minutes featured Mako Vunipola challenging Frans Malherbe to a break dancing contest.

Outside the mind-games, there were some real questions building into this game. The Lions victory in the first test was built on finding real purchase in attacking the Springboks backfield under the high ball. 

In a lot of ways, the Lions did to the Springboks what the Springboks did to so many teams during their march to becoming World Champions in 2019. The Lions kicked, they pressured, they forced mistakes and penalties and then they executed those opportunities in a second half where they outscored the Springboks 5-19 to overcome a 12-3 half-time deficit. 

The Springboks can complain about the referee all they want in feature-length documentaries but they let the Lions and Nic Berry into the game with their own inaccuracies and lost positions, never mind deploying a “bomb squad” that was closer to a fizzle unit when it came to impact.

Could the Springboks make the adjustments they needed in the backfield and their overall fitness in seven days? Would the Lions double down on what worked last week? Would the spite be off the charts?

The answer to all of these questions was “yes”. This was not a game for people who liked free-flowing attacking rugby. The first half alone was one hour and three minutes long - the exact length of Erasmus’ video, weirdly enough - and it featured multiple stoppages for the direct aftermath of kick chase and pressure. 

The collisions were off the charts. There were multiple scraps. The game was split into multiple, separated sequences of scrum, phase, penalty, kick, pressure, penalty, maul, penalty. There was very little rugby played so whoever won the penalty and error battle would win the opportunity to win the game. That was the Springboks.

They didn’t need to change much from last week - they just needed to do what they always do, but better. When they did and cut out the errors under the high ball, the Lions had no answer and, in fact, started losing all the battles they won last week. When that happens, you lose.

So onto a third Test we go. Where the Lions go from here remains to be seen.

15. Stuart Hogg

This was a really poor outing for Hogg, who struggled under the high ball - not good against this Springbok side. 4/10 

14. Anthony Watson

Some decent chases but very little else to do on a day not built for wingers with the ball in hand. Late errors really cost him under the high ball. 5/10 

13. Chris Harris

Some good shots in defence but didn’t see much in the way of offensive on-ball involvements. 6/10 

12. Robbie Henshaw

Constantly busy but spent most of the evening chasing kicks and making hits in defence. 6/10 

11. Duhan van der Merwe

Caught out under the high ball repeatedly and lucky not to see red for a kick on Cheslin Kolbe. 4/10 

10. Dan Biggar

Made all his kicks, bar one, which was a crucial part of the Lions staying close in this game for the first three quarters at least. 6/10 

9. Conor Murray

Really strong box kicking in a game defined by them. 6/10 

1. Mako Vunipola

Some decent moments but not the impact he had last week. 6/10 

2. Luke Cowan-Dickie

A few decent moments but very few moments to influence the game with the ball in hand. Good defensive work throughout. 6/10 

3. Tadhg Furlong

Ran into a bit of trouble in the scrum but was his usual imposing self in the collisions. 6/10

4. Maro Itoje

Some excellent defensive involvements during phase play and at the lineout but struggled to duplicate last week’s performance. 6/10 

5. Alun Wyn Jones

One of the poorest games I’ve seen from Jones in quite some time. Very little impact during phase play or at the set-piece, especially as the game progressed. 5/10 

6. Courtney Lawes

A good performance but he dipped in influence as the game progressed. 6/10 

7. Tom Curry

Very busy, some great shots in defence but spent the majority of the game chasing high balls to little effect. 6/10 

8. Jack Conan

In a game with very little possession in the wider channels, the areas where Conan could be most effective all but disappeared. 5/10 


The impact of last week was not duplicated this week and the Lions suffered as a consequence. 4/10

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