South Africa v British and Irish Lions: Gatland rolls the dice for decider

By Sports Desk August 06, 2021

The British and Irish Lions lock horns with South Africa once more in Saturday's decider, with the Test series on the line at 1-1 as it boils down to the final game.

The Lions battled to a 22-17 opening victory but will now have to lick their wounds and respond to the heavy 27-9 defeat that the Springboks inflicted in Cape Town last Saturday.

While Warren Gatland's men eye a first series win on South African soil since 1997 in the winner-takes-all showdown, the Boks are also aiming to piece together consecutive series successes over the tourists for the first time since 1962-1968.

Each of Gatland's three Lions series have gone to the wire, though it will be a tough task to bounce back from South Africa's comeback victory last time out.

Having suffered an 18-point loss, the Lions head coach has made a host of changes, bringing in front-row forwards Ken Owens and Wyn Jones alongside scrum-half Ali Price, full-back Liam Williams, wing Josh Adams and centre Bundee Aki.

Despite Gatland's changes tailoring to the pre-existing strategy of matching their opponents physically, attack coach Gregor Townsend insisted creativity would be the key to overcoming Siya Kolisi's reigning world champions.

"If you create opportunities, you have more chance of winning the game," Townsend said. "You may create more through pressure. We know we have to control the game more by moving South Africa around, draining them of energy whenever we can."

The introduction of Finn Russell, who Townsend explained "can ask different questions than any fly-half in the world," on the bench for Owen Farrell may offer the tourists that.

The Boks, in contrast, make just the two enforced changes. Pieter-Steph du Toit and Faf de Klerk miss out through injury, opening up room for Lood de Jager and Cobus Reinach to start.

De Jager's arrival will force Franco Mostert into the back row role he filled after 55 minutes last time out. Indeed, Mostert's shift gained control of the lineout, ensuring the hosts won the remainder of the game 16-0.

 

Discipline key

The war of words between both camps, following Rassie Erasmus' remarkable campaign against the match officials, carried over onto the pitch in the second Test, yet Kyle Sinckler was the only player cited amid a hostile showing from both teams.

However, if the Lions are to succeed in the decider, they must remain composed in response to the Boks' contentious style of game management.

Gatland commented on the "stop-start" nature of the first two Tests but Courtney Lawes maintained his team "can't get too caught up in the niggle of stuff, scrapping."

"They can throw their handbags around, as long as we can get the ball out and play some rugby," the 32-year-old added.

Kolisi jumped to the defence of his side, who have been accused of time-wasting and suffocating games to their benefit, declaring: "If there are niggles we can't leave a man behind. That's our system and what we believe in."

 

Aerial bombardment

The Lions struggled under the high ball in the second Test and any chance of success for Gatland's men largely hangs on the aerial performances of their back three.

Duhan van der Merwe has endured a mixed tour so far, with a positive first outing and a fairly poor second showing. He is joined by Williams and Adams who will go head-to-head with key Springboks Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi.

The latter battle between two try machines promises to be a thriller. Adams leads the Lions' scoring charts with eight tries in four appearances, though Mapimpi also boasts an impressive 15 in 16 internationals.

In response to the tourists' heaviest defeat since 2005, Gatland has rolled the dice in his selections and, if the Lions can get the ball in hand and play as opposed to battling themselves into the ground, they have a chance of legacy-making glory.

 

TEAMS

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Morne Steyn, Damian Willemse.

British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Adam Beard, Sam Simmonds, Conor Murray, Finn Russell, Elliot Daly.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Since 1962-1968, the past five series between the Lions and the Springboks have seen the winner alternate, with the hosts winning the most recent series in 2009.

- The Lions gained just 105 metres from 85 carries against South Africa in the second Test, their average gain of 1.24 metres per carry the lowest by a tier-one side in a Test match since Opta began recording such data in 2010.

- Both matches in this series have been won by the side trailing at the break; the Lions defeated the Springboks in the opener after outscoring them 19-5 in the second half, while in the second Test South Africa scored 21 unanswered points in the second 40 minutes.

- The Lions have lost just two series after winning the first Test (W10, D1) – against New Zealand in 1930 and Australia in 2001 – with the tourists winning four and drawing one of their five such series against South Africa. 

- Alun Wyn Jones is set to win his 12th Lions Test cap, joining Mike Gibson and Graham Price as the joint-fourth most capped player in Lions history, behind only Willie John McBride (17) and Dickie Jeeps (13).

- Damian de Allende has made 25 carries during the series, six more than any other player, gaining the most metres (76), as well as the most post-contact metres (67).

Related items

  • Patriots beat Bills in wild weather for seventh straight win Patriots beat Bills in wild weather for seventh straight win

    The New England Patriots stayed hot in the NFL on Monday after extending their winning streak to seven games after prevailing 14-10 against the Buffalo Bills.

    Not even wild and windy weather could stop the red-hot Patriots, who are the AFC's number one seed thanks to their success away to the Bills.

    Entering the matchup, New England had won six straight games – the franchise's longest winning streak since they celebrated eight successive games to start 2019.

    Bill Belichick's Patriots continued where they left off at Bills Stadium, where the team improved to 9-4 despite rookie quarterback Mac Jones only throwing two-for-three passing for 19 yards and no touchdowns, while tallying another five carries for minus three yards.

    It was a gruelling battle between the top two teams for fewest points allowed this season – Buffalo had conceded just 182 points, with New England giving up 190.

    An eventful opening quarter saw the Patriots and Bills trade touchdowns after Buffalo's Gabriel Davis caught a 14-yard pass from Josh Allen (15-of-30 passing for 145 yards and a TD), having seen Damien Harris complete a dazzling 64-yard run.

    Harris' touchdown was the longest rushing TD by a Patriots player since Hall of Famer Curtis Martin (70 yards) in 1997.

    The game was eventually decided by the kickers – Nick Folk converting a field goal in each of the second and fourth quarters to sink the Bills (7-5).

  • PSG boss Pochettino not unsettled by Man Utd rumours PSG boss Pochettino not unsettled by Man Utd rumours

    Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino said he is not settled by ongoing Manchester United rumours.

    Pochettino has been heavily linked with Premier League giants United, who are eyeing a long-term manager following the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season.

    Reports have claimed Pochettino is interested in returning to England, where he previously guided Tottenham to the 2019 Champions League final, having also worked for Southampton.

    Ligue 1 leaders PSG have been criticised for their performances this season following a 1-1 draw at Lens, while speculation has claimed Lionel Messi has grown unhappy with Pochettino's approach.

    But as PSG prepare for Tuesday's Champions League fixture with Club Brugge, Pochettino insisted he is calm in the mist of the rumours.

    "I feel good," Pochettino said during his pre-game news conference. "And I feel calmer because I have the backing of my players, I have the backing from the club which knows what we are trying to do.

    "We are part of a growth process. There are two things growing, one is visible, which is the team's style of play. And the tactics, and communications, and links within the playing style. And then there is those links in the dressing room, and our day-to-day experience, and that takes time.

    "Both things need to improve at the same time, and with the right balance. There is an internal process going on in terms of settling in, and the players getting to know one another. We have built a solid group that is battling for the same target, and everyone wants to be a part of the group. That way, everyone can give as much as they can in order to achieve targets. That is the process we are part of.

    "There are highs and lows. And we need to do better in terms of our play. We need to develop our ideas more, and have that flexibility that teams need to face the obstacles posed by the opposition. That is what we are going through. Based on that, I feel calm.

    "This is Paris Saint Germain, and I understand that. It is a shining light so that having qualified in the Champions League, and with an 11-point lead in the league, there are still things that aren't going well, and I agree that we have to do better in many areas.

    "As for the noise surrounding the club, that is what you get when you are at a club like Paris Saint Germain. We have the coaching staff and players who know what they want and what we are working on here, so nobody will take us away from our beliefs. We are clear about our ideas and we respect everything around us. But we continue down our path."

    Messi could become just the third player – after George Weah in 1994 and Neymar in 2017 – to score in his first three consecutive home games for PSG in the Champions League.

    Kylian Mbappe has five goal involvements in three matches against Brugge – his joint-most against a single opponent in the competition, along with Red Star Belgrade and Istanbul Basaksehir.

    Since the start of the 2012-13 season, PSG have only been beaten once in 29 home games in the Champions League group stage (W23 D5) – 2-1 against United in October 2020. The French side have scored 79 goals across these fixtures, at an average of 2.7 per game.

  • Napoli's Insigne offer unacceptable but renewal still possible – agent Napoli's Insigne offer unacceptable but renewal still possible – agent

    Lorenzo Insigne's agent Vincenzo Pisacane said Napoli's contract offer for their star captain was not "acceptable" nor "appropriate", though he insisted it is not too late to sign a renewal.

    Insigne, who emerged from the youth team of boyhood club Napoli in 2010, is set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

    Negotiations over a new deal have proved fruitless so far amid reported interest from Serie A rivals Inter and Milan as well as La Liga giants Barcelona and Premier League quartet Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal and Newcastle United.

    Pisacane was asked about Insigne's future at Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

    "An offer has been made that is not considered acceptable, not considered appropriate," Pisacane told Canale 21. "But it doesn't mean we don't talk to each other anymore.

    "Everyone plays their part, there are those who ask questions and those who request. The best thing is to talk to each other.

    "I have read several times that Lorenzo has asked for the moon, but no request has ever been made. He feels Napoli as part of him, he perhaps holds Napoli excessively close. I struggle to find a player more attached to the shirt."

    Insigne – a Euro 2020 winner with Italy – has continued to perform for Napoli, playing a key role in the team's strong start to 2021-22.

    He has scored four goals and supplied five assists in Serie A this term as Napoli sit third in the standings, two points behind leaders Milan.

    The 30-year-old ranks third for xG per 90 minutes (0.76) in Serie A, while he is also third for assists per 90 minutes (0.43).

    Only Milan's Rafael Leao (21) has managed more shot-ending carries than Insigne (17) this season.

    On the chances of Insigne remaining at Napoli, Pisacane added: "I can't give a percentage, I just can't. Marriages are made in two, therefore I think it's right to meet again, to talk about it and see if there's a possibility or not.

    "I find it strange that we are in December, it's not too late but if I want something and I want to get it, I start working on it.

    "Lorenzo has been a top player in the same team for many years and he always finds incentives to do better. I think it's very difficult to find a symbol like him. I think Lorenzo deserved a little more time."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.