The British & Irish Lions were beaten 27-9 by South Africa in the second Test in Cape Town which means the series is now tied at 1-1 going into what will be a deciding match next Saturday.
In a fraught, tense, but entirely unwatchable game, the Springboks scored second-half tries through Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am to come out on top.
The kicking of Handre Pollard then put the Lions to the sword.
All Warren Gatland’s side could manage were three penalties from Dan Biggar.
Here,looks at five things we learned from the game…
The first half of the second Test at Cape Town Stadium was close to impossible for Ben O’Keefe to referee. There were several scraps, numerous incidents which required checking, and players from both teams calling for cards for opposition players. Cheslin Kolbe should have been sent off for taking out Conor Murray in the air – instead, he received a yellow – and that was admittedly a big mistake from O’Keefe and his officials. Faf de Klerk could also have easily been dismissed.
But if we have learned anything in the last fortnight, it is that referees have the toughest job on the field and O’Keefe deserves credit for how he took charge of the game in the most difficult of circumstances. He was not perfect, but his communication with both captains and his assistants was clear and concise.
A Lions Test should be a rugby highlight for anyone watching, but the stark truth was that this match was close to unwatchable. As a product, it was appalling. There was next to no rugby played at all and the first 40 minutes actually took 63 minutes to complete. In that time there were a total of 15 penalties. This was supposed to be the highest level of rugby. It is not wrong to say it came nowhere near to that description. If I hadn’t been covering the match from home, I’d have turned it off.
Rugby will continue to struggle to attract new supporters and will not grow unless the product of the game improves. In my view, the sport was irrevocably damaged by the antics of Rassie Erasmus in the build-up to this match and the tie itself was nearly as bad.
South Africa’s director of rugby and former Munster boss Erasmus had dominated the build-up to this second Test with his hour-long video on social media which criticised the refereeing of first Test referee Nic Berry. It was deeply unedifying behaviour from Erasmus, but he had the last laugh as a number of the key decisions in the second Test went his team’s way. The biggest two were Kolbe and De Klerk escaping red cards.
Whether O’Keefe had been influenced by Erasmus’ words only he will know, but regardless of any decisions there is no doubt the best team won.
One of the biggest reasons the Lions won the first Test was because they dominated the aerial battle. They were second best in that area this week and it was a huge contributing factor to why they lost. Full-back Stuart Hogg had a poor game and both he and fellow Scot Duhan van der Merwe struggled under the high ball.
Hogg was targeted by South Africa and he couldn’t cope. He also failed to tackle Mapimpi when he scored the first try for the Springboks. Van der Merwe also gave away a totally needless penalty for which he was yellow-carded when he tripped De Klerk.
The Lions must make changes in the back three for the third Test. My view is Liam Williams, if fit, and Josh Adams should come in for Hogg and Van der Merwe because they are both brilliant in the air.
The Springboks wilted badly in the second half of the first Test. The second Test was a carbon copy in many ways but in reverse as Gatland’s men struggled badly after the break and got on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle. South African captain Siya Kolisi had a superb game. He was absolutely everywhere and did brilliantly to stop Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw from scoring a try.
In the pack, his fellow giants Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert were equally as good and the latter’s move to the back-row worked well. It allowed Lood de Jager to come on and the giant trio helped South Africa’s pack get on top. On the whole, the Springboks were far better in the second Test and De Jager made a big impact.
A word too in this area for Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones who was heroic in a losing cause and ended the game covered in blood.