Avishka Fernando's third ODI century set Sri Lanka on course for a 14-run win in the opener of their three-match series against South Africa.

The Proteas were always fighting a losing battle in Colombo after allowing Sri Lanka to make 300-9 – their highest total in 50-over cricket in 2021.

Avishka (118) was the star with the bat, putting on 79 in a partnership with Dhananjaya de Silva (44) that was disrupted briefly by a rain delay, with better to come as he was joined in the middle by Charith Asalanka (72).

That stand of 97 for the fourth wicket put Sri Lanka in command, as a bowling attack led by Kagiso Rabada (2-66) struggled to keep them in check.

South Africa were no more than steady in reply and keenly felt the dismissal of Aiden Markram to an outstanding Wanindu Hasaranga catch after 96 runs, including four sixes.

Captain Temba Bavuma had already retired hurt after taking a blow to his hand, and Rassie van der Dussen's departure preceded some superb death bowling to see Sri Lanka comfortably over the line – the Proteas short of their target on 286-6.

Profitable partnership

With the exception of Keshav Maharaj, who gave up 30 runs in 10 overs for his most economical ODI return, South Africa's bowlers were really poor. But Avishka and Asalanka still had to capitalise and did exactly that with a vital partnership that scored at 8.19 an over.

Denied at the death

South Africa required 41 off 25 when Van der Dussen departed, yet they mustered only two more boundaries – both fours from Rabada in the final over when the chase was up. Hasaranga started well and finished strongly, too, slowing Heinrich Klaasen in giving up just three from the 47th over.

England captain Joe Root has regained top spot in the ICC men's Test batting rankings following his impressive displays in the ongoing series with India.

The 30-year-old has recorded centuries in all three Tests, which is tied at 1-1 ahead of the fourth match at The Oval this week, aggregating 507 runs at an average of 126.75.

Root was fifth on the list at the start of the series but his form throughout 2021 has seen him overtake Virat Kohli, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and previous number one Kane Williamson to lead the way for the first time since December 2015.

Kohli has slipped out of the top five, with Rohit Sharma overtaking his team-mate with his highest ever position.

The 916 ranking points accrued by Root is one below his career-best aggregate from August 2015 and has been bettered by only four other England batsmen – Len Hutton, Jack Hobbs, Peter May and Denis Compton

"Obviously it's a nice thing to hear," Root said. "I've got to keep trying to score in this series and get us over the line.

"As nice as it is, there is still so much hard work to do. Our focus does not change. I'm obviously proud to have achieved this and I'd like to stay there now by playing like I am.

"Hopefully the form of my life is still to come, but I do feel very good at the minute. I've got to stay focused now."

In bowling terms, Root's England team-mate James Anderson has moved back up to number five in a list led by Australia's Pat Cummins.

England levelled their five-match series with India thanks to an innings victory in the third Test at Headingley last week.

All-rounder Moeen Ali has been confirmed as England's vice-captain for the fourth Test after Jos Buttler was given a paternity break ahead of the arrival of his second child.
 

Heavy rains forced the abandonment of the first CG Insurance T20 International between the West Indies Women and South Africa Women at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground.

Batting first Marizanne Kapp top-scored with 36 as the visitors put 135 for three on the board.  In pursuit, the Windies Women were off to a tough start, after losing Deandra Dottin to injury and Hayley Matthews for 8 before the rain intervened.  Despite not playing the full encounter West Indies stand-in captain Anisa Mohammed took positives from the encounter.

"I’m really happy with the way the girls bowled today. I think we had them good up until the 18th over but with wickets in hand, we expected them to come hard at us. Having said that I still believe that 135 was a good total for us to chase unfortunately the rain had other plans. We now have a day to refocus and fine-tune carrying through the consistency until the end of 20 overs,” Mohammed told CWI Media.

The second and third CG Insurance T20Is take place at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground on Thursday, September 02, and Saturday, September 04 respectively. The five CG Insurance ODIs will be played from September 7 to 19, with the first three matches being played at the Coolidge Cricket Ground (CCG) and the last two at the SVRCG.

South Africa pace bowling legend Dale Steyn has announced his retirement from all forms of cricket.

The 38-year-old took 439 wickets across 93 Tests to become South Africa's all-time leading wicket-taker in the longest format, adding a further 260 dismissals across 172 limited-over international fixtures.

His returns in Test cricket ranks him eighth for all-time dismissals and his strike rate of 42.3 is the best of any player to take 250 wickets, though he did announce his retirement from red-ball internationals in 2019.

However, Steyn continued to operate as a white-ball specialist and, despite missing out on a central contract with South Africa, wanted to play in the T20 World Cup before the coronavirus-enforced delay.

He may have been considered an outsider for the rearranged T20 World Cup this year but he will not feature for South Africa again after taking to social media to announce his retirement.

"It’s been 20 years of training, matches, travel, people, wins, losses, strapped feet, jet lag, joy, and brotherhood," Steyn wrote on Tuesday as he prefixed his post with lyrics from the Counting Crows.

"There are too many memories to tell. Too many faces to thank. So I left it to the experts to sum up, my favourite band, the Counting Crows.

"Today I officially retire from the game I love the most. Bitter sweet but grateful.

"Thank you to everyone, from family to teammates, journalists to fans, it’s been an incredible journey together."

Steyn has not featured in franchise T20 cricket since March in the Pakistan Super League, though he remains one of the pioneers of the shortest format.

The South Africa bowler appeared in leagues across England, Pakistan, India, the West Indias, Sri Lanka and Australia, but pulled out of this year's Indian Premier League, insisting he was not retiring.

However, with Tuesday's announcement, an international in February 2020 and his final franchise appearance in March prove to be his last.

Former team-mate and fellow South Africa legend, AB de Villiers quickly responded to Steyn's post, adding: "Great player, great man, amazing memories! You picked a good song to sign off my bud. Legend forever!"

Coming off a successful series against Pakistan, West Indies Women Head Coach Courtney Walsh is expecting greater levels of consistency from his players when they take on South Africa in the first of three T20 Internationals in Antigua on Tuesday.

During the series that the West Indies won 3-2 over Pakistan, the Caribbean women benefitted from players like Kyshona Knight and Britney Cooper stepped up with the bat to support Captain Stafanie Taylor and Hayley Matthews, especially in light of Deandra Dottin’s poor form.

On the eve of the series against South Africa, Walsh says he expects even better performances from his players against a tough South African contingent.

“We are looking to execute a lot better than we did against Pakistan. Obviously, South Africa being ranked above us we have to be a lot more consistent than we were against Pakistan, so we will be looking to execute a lot better and improve. We know that they are a decent team and we have to be ready for that,” said Walsh.

He said it was a good sign to see players other than the ‘big three’ step up and wants to see more of that against South Africa.

“That’s the only way we are going to get the team where I think we can compete against the top teams and give ourselves a chance of winning major competitions.

“We have to move away from one or two players consistently getting us out of trouble so it was very good to see all the other players who performed well in the last series and we want that to continue and to try to extend that consistency from them, and once we can complement it with both departments, batting and bowling it will be good for us.

“And then, if we can complete the whole thing when we are in the field it would be excellent. So we just need to keep improving, raising the bar in those areas that we have to. It’s good to see other players putting their hands up and we want to see more of that.”

The Wallabies and All Blacks will clash in the Bledisloe Cup in Perth before Queensland hosts the remainder of the Rugby Championship.

New Zealand pulled out of next weekend's third and final Bledisloe Test due to concerns over coronavirus, with the showdown initially set for August 28 at Optus Stadium.

The fixture will go ahead in Perth, with a date for the game set to be confirmed in the coming days following SANZAAR's announcement on Tuesday.

Afterwards, the Rugby Championship will head to Queensland for doubleheaders across four consecutive weekends in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Townsville, where the centenary Test between the All Blacks and Springboks will be played.

The Wallabies play South Africa on September 12 at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast, where the All Blacks then going head-to-head against Argentina.

September 18 will see the teams travel to Brisbane for Argentina-New Zealand and Australia-South Africa contests at Suncorp Stadium.

Australia and Argentina face-off at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville the following weekend on September 25, before the New Zealand-Argentina centenary encounter.

The Rugby Championship concludes on the Gold Coast on October 2, with the Pumas facing the Wallabies and Springboks taking on the All Blacks.

"We thought last year was tough when we had to implement a Tri-Nations tournament in Australia with South Africa absent due to the pandemic, but the current disruption caused by the 'delta variant' of COVID-19 has seen government authorities tighten up border bio-security measures substantially," said SANZAAR CEO Brendan Morris.

"This is understandable and therefore, we had no option but to basically move the remainder of The Rugby Championship to Queensland.

"On behalf of SANZAAR and the national unions, I would like to sincerely thank the Queensland Government for working with us around the clock to provide a travel, accommodation, training and playing environment that will safely allow us to complete the tournament.

"SANZAAR and the national unions are incredibly grateful and will work closely with the states' health authorities to ensure all bio-security measures are adhered to." 

Rugby Australia (RA) CEO Andy Marinos added: "This is a world Rugby first and a truly special celebration of the game, in what I see as a once-in-a-lifetime event."

South Africa are now unbeaten for five consecutive Rugby Championship matches for the first time since 2009 following Saturday's 29-10 defeat of Argentina.

The Springboks made 11 changes to the starting line-up from last week's 32-12 win and it heralded a more one-sided contest at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

A first half dictated by the boot of Handre Pollard and too many cheap Pumas penalties allowed South Africa a more carefree second 40 minutes, with Makazole Mapimpi and Malcolm Marx scoring their two tries in a straightforward victory.

Pollard's penalty opened the scoring after some good early Pumas possession, before Trevor Nyakane was forced off with injury inside a quarter of an hour.

Argentina gave up eight penalties inside 25 minutes, with Pollard stretching the lead to 9-0 before Domingo Miotti kicked his side onto the scoresheet.

Pollard made it four from four as the Springboks continued to draw ill-discipline from their opponents. Referee Karl Dickson had soon had enough, sending Rodrigo Buni to the sin bin for offside, with Pollard again making no mistake with his fifth penalty before half-time.

Miotti missed his mark either side of the interval before South Africa got the first try of the contest, Mapimpi racing in down the left after a good Willie Le Roux pass at the end of a quick move.

The power of the Springbok pack was simply too much and Marx went over after another maul, Pollard adding the extras to keep up his spotless record.

With South Africa chasing a bonus point and Argentina desperate to reduce the deficit, the contest went beyond 84 minutes before Pablo Matera battled his way over the line and Nicolas Sanchez converted.

De Jager dominates on 50th cap

Lood De Jager marked his half-century for the Boks with another imperious performance as the pack once again proved too strong.

The Sale Sharks lock made seven carries and won all 14 of his tackles, having not missed any of his 16 attempts a week ago.

Pumas pay penalty

Argentina simply made life too easy for South Africa through their own lack of discipline, giving up 21 penalties to the Boks' 11.

It proved the undoing of a decent defensive effort that saw Tomas Lavanini and Julian Montoya reach double figures for tackles.

There will be two very different-looking sides when South Africa face Argentina for the second time in this year's Rugby Championship on Saturday.

The Springboks triumphed 32-12 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last week despite making 10 changes to the side that secured a series win over the British and Irish Lions.

Coach Jacques Nienaber has again elected to mix up the line-up, with six alterations at the back and five among the forwards. Indeed, there are 17 changes to the matchday squad in total, with Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi, Jasper Wiese and Cobus Reinach the only men to retain their places in the starting XV.

It will be a special occasion for lock De Jager, who will earn his 50th cap for South Africa.

"Lood is a stalwart, and his work ethic is admirable, so we are excited to see him achieve this big feat," said Nienaber this week.

"It takes special character to feature and perform consistently at international level and to play 50 Tests for the Springboks, and Lood is certainly deserving of this accolade."

Argentina too have rung the changes following last week's defeat, their first of 2021.

Santiago Chocobares and Jeronimo de la Fuente keep their places in midfield, but the whole backline has changed, with wing Ignacio Mendy set to win his first cap.

The front row remains the same, but Guido Petti moves from lock to flanker to replace Facundo Isa, who is not in the squad. Marcos Kremer has dropped to the bench, with Tomas Lavanini and Matias Alemanno brought in.

Lucio Cinti is among the replacements, having helped Argentina to a rugby sevens bronze medal at the Olympics this year, alongside Mendy.

Saturday's contest represents the sole Rugby Championship interest for this week, with New Zealand's clash with Australia having been called off after the All Blacks withdrew from the contest in Perth due to COVID-19 concerns.

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

South Africa have won 87 per cent of their Test matches against Argentina, their best record against a single country they have faced at least 10 times, aside from Italy (93 per cent). They have lost only once in their past 30 Tests in Port Elizabeth and have won 15 of their most recent 16.

The Springboks are bidding to go five games without defeat in the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009.

Argentina, who have not lost consecutive Test matches since September 2019, have only won once in their most recent 10 Rugby Championship games – that was a 25-15 defeat of New Zealand last November.

 

Ones to watch

De Jager, who will become the fourth Springbok this season to reach 50 caps, won the joint-most lineouts (including steals) of any player in round one (six, level with Sam Whitelock). That is double the tally of any Argentina player.

"I've been fortunate enough to be part of real highs but also real lows of SA rugby," he said ahead of the match. "I've had more injuries than most guys, but it's part of my journey and I have to overcome it.

"Playing my 50th Test is a true privilege."

Argentina will need to disrupt their hosts as best they can and captain Julian Montoya could be crucial: he won all 13 of his tackles last week, the most of any player without missing a single attempt during the firsts round of matches.

SA Rugby has offered to host the remainder of the 2021 Rugby Championship after coronavirus cases in New Zealand saw three All Blacks Tests called off.

With travel and quarantine restrictions tightened in New Zealand, it was announced the national team's matches against the Springboks in Auckland and Dunedin had been cancelled.

The All Blacks also will not travel to Perth for their third Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia – a decision their SANZAAR rivals said they only learned of through the media.

These developments have left Rugby Championship plans in tatters after just a single round of matches.

The tournament was replaced by the Tri-Nations in 2020 when South Africa withdrew. This time, SA Rugby is able to provide a potential solution, confirming in a statement its offer to SANZAAR.

"We have advised SANZAAR that we are ready and able to host the remainder of the competition in South Africa, pending our government's approval," said CEO Jurie Roux.

"But we are now well-versed in turning on rugby Tests within the prevailing COVID restrictions and have the venues and accommodation necessary. We just need the go-ahead."

The Springboks are still set to face Argentina, as scheduled, in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, although the two teams will not then fly out to Australia as they await an announcement on the rescheduling of the tournament.

South Africa has already this year hosted a British and Irish Lions tour, which the Springboks won 2-1.

Jaden Hendrikse scored a late debut try as a much-changed South Africa side started their Rugby Championship campaign with a 32-12 win over Argentina.

Jacques Nienaber made 10 alterations to his starting line-up following a series-clinching win over the British and Irish Lions last weekend, but the Springboks were too strong for the Pumas.

Cobus Reinach raced away for a sublime breakaway try and Aphelele Fassi finished clinically in the first half for the world champions at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Elton Jantjies scored 17 points with the boot to keep South Africa in command and Hendrikse came off the bench to go over in the closing stages.

Argentina could only muster four Nicolas Sanchez penalties as the Springboks made it 10 wins in their past 11 Tests in their first Rugby Championship match since winning the 2019 tournament.

Reinach capitalised on a loose pass to dart away from inside his own half and score a superb try that was brilliantly converted by Jantjies, who had opened the scoring with a penalty.

Sanchez got the Pumas on the board from the tee, but wing Fassi showed great hands to keep a clever kick from Jantjies in and crossed in the left corner following a juggling act.

South Africa were bossing the forward battle and went in at the break with a 21-9 lead after two penalties apiece from the livewire Jantjies and Sanchez.

The trusty boot of Sanchez reduced the deficit to nine points early in the second half, but Jantjies responded by sending another two kicks sailing between the posts.

Backs saw little of the ball in a bruising battle and Fassi had what he thought was his second try of the match ruled out, as Malcolm Marx played the ball on the ground in an earlier passage of play.

Hendrikse put the icing on the cake when he went over in the corner following a powerful run from Marco van Staden.

The Rugby Championship returns this weekend with a pair of intriguing fixtures.

The tournament took a year off in 2020, reverting to a Tri-Nations format with world champions South Africa absent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Springboks are back, though, and come into the 2021 edition on a high after beating the British and Irish Lions 2-1.

Meanwhile, New Zealand have already gained an edge over Australia in last week's Bledisloe Cup opener.

The tournament is teed up nicely, as Stats Perform provides the key Opta facts...
 

NEW ZEALAND V AUSTRALIA

Form

New Zealand have won their past five Tests, scoring an average of 58 points per game. However, the All Blacks have won only two of their past six outings in the Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship (D1, L3) – Australia have won two of the sides' previous three meetings across these competitions (L1).

The Wallabies will have to end a long wait for an away win against New Zealand to further improve on that record, though. The All Blacks are undefeated in their past 26 encounters on home soil (W25, D1) – including last week's Bledisloe I.

Ones to watch

Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett is among the replacements for an All Blacks side who have scored 15 Test tries from the bench since the beginning of 2020, six more than any other tier one nation. Barrett has not scored in that period and last did so from the bench in a Test in 2016.

For Australia, the performance of one of their inexperienced stars will be key. Noah Lolesio has 57 Test points in 2021, but only five of those came at Eden Park last week as he missed two of three penalties and three of four conversions. He must be more clinical.
 

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

Argentina have led at half-time in four of their past five away Tests against South Africa, but they have gone on to win only one of those (L4). That victory, in Durban in August 2015, was the Pumas' only triumph in South Africa and one of only three against the Springboks in 30 Tests (D1, L26).

Both teams come into this match in form, however. South Africa have won nine of their past 10 Tests (L1), including the series win over the Lions, while Argentina have only lost one in eight (W4, D3) and are unbeaten in four (W2, D2).

Ones to watch

Coming off the gruelling Lions series, South Africa have made 12 changes, giving wing duo Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi a rest. That means another opportunity for Aphelele Fassi, who scored on his debut against Georgia last month but will now take on trickier opponents.

In-form Argentina will fancy their chances of disrupting a much-changed home side. The Pumas made the most tackles per game (146) and had the highest tackle success rate (89 per cent) at the 2020 Tri-Nations, with Marcos Kremer leading the tournament with his 72. He has made just 16 tackles from 22 attempts in his past three games, though.

Warren Gatland says the British and Irish Lions gave it everything but came up just short in their agonising Test series defeat to South Africa.

The Lions suffered last-minute heartbreak in Cape Town as Morne Steyn's penalty secured a 19-16 win for the Springboks, who take the series by a 2-1 scoreline having lost the opening match.

Gatland's side had taken early control of the decider, Ken Owens' try helping them claim a 10-3 lead before half-time.

However, the Lions were made to rue missed opportunities as the reigning world champions fought back, with veteran fly-half Steyn coming off the bench to land the knockout blow – just as he had done in the 2009 series between the same teams.

Nevertheless, Gatland was unable to fault the efforts of his players.

"I'm disappointed, but really proud of the guys," Gatland told Sky Sports. "We spoke beforehand about winning these Test matches being about big moments.

"We had a two-on-one when maybe Josh Adams should have scored and a couple of times we were held up across the line. 

"I thought we were bold in terms of the tactics and what we wanted to do and tried to play rugby.

"We had a couple of calls which didn't go our way and bounces of the ball, particularly the try they scored, but I'm really proud of the effort. 

"I can't ask the guys more than the guys giving 100 per cent and they definitely did that."

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi hailed team-mate Morne Steyn after his late penalty sealed a series victory for the Springboks over the British and Irish Lions.

Steyn came off the bench and proved the difference in Cape Town – his last-gasp kick securing a 19-16 win.

It was a first Test appearance in five years for the 37-year-old fly-half, who also landed the crucial blow in the 2009 series against the Lions.

The Lions were unbeaten in the final Test in each of their last three tours, but in a tightly contested tussle the Springboks produced a turnaround from 10-3 down to snatch a dramatic victory.

"As soon as he went for the kick, I thought 'no way!' It was beautiful to see him stay strong," Kolisi told Sky Sports.

"We didn't think he would come back and play. In his wildest dreams, he didn't think he'd get this opportunity again, so I'm very happy for him and the team.

"It was really challenging for both teams because there was a lot happening. But we focused as much as we could on what we had to do on the field, and that was most important.

"This is huge, 12 years – I will never get this opportunity again. I'm really honoured and proud of the team that we were able to achieve this. We can't compare it to anything else."

It was a heart-breaking end for the Lions and Alun Wyn Jones, who joined Mike Gibson and Graham Price as the fourth most-capped player in their history with 12.

Nevertheless, the skipper – who initially seemed set to miss the tour due to injury – revealed his sense of pride in the efforts of Warren Gatland's side.

"We are hugely disappointed – we were in it until the death. We had an opportunity at the end," he said.

"I am very proud of the boys and very conscious of who we represent but as I said, hugely disappointed at the same time.

"We wanted to come out for the second half with more of the same, we did that probably after the early exchanges, then the to-ing and fro-ing with the penalties broke up the game.

"It was probably similar to what we have seen in patches in previous games, we wanted to kick on but we could not do that."

Morne Steyn was the hero for South Africa as, just like in 2009, his penalty proved decisive in a 19-16 series-clinching win over the British and Irish Lions.

Steyn had last made a Test appearance for the Springboks back in 2016 but the 37-year-old came on from the bench to prove the difference in Cape Town.

Having replaced Handre Pollard, whose kicking was off in the second half, Steyn converted two penalties to secure a hard-fought victory from a tense tussle.

After Steyn's first effort, Finn Russell's penalty seemed to have sent the series to a draw, only for Steyn’s boot to once again prove the Lions' downfall with a 79th-minute three-pointer.

The Lions seemed to have been handed an early blow when Dan Biggar was forced off injured after attempting to tackle Lukhanyo Am, wth Pollard converting South Africa's resulting penalty.

However, Biggar's replacement Russell kicked a penalty five minutes after his introduction to restore parity as he asserted himself on proceedings.

Russell was kicking again soon after, this time adding the extras after Ken Owens marked his maiden Lions Test start by bundling over at the back of the maul for the first try.

A second Pollard penalty reduced the deficit, while Russell had a fortunate escape when he made direct contact with Cheslin Kolbe's head, a slip from the South Africa winger helping the Lions remain at full strength.

Pollard's penalty dropped just short, yet the Springboks finally found the breakthrough moments later, Kolbe holding off Luke Cowan-Dickie's challenge to race over in the corner after a loose ball had broken in South Africa's favour – the try standing after a long TMO review for a possible knock-on from Jasper Wiese.

An Ali Price error handed South Africa a chance to extend their lead, though the Lions held firm and Russell kept his cool at the other end to arrow a three-pointer through the posts after Eben Etzebeth's mistake.

Steyn, South Africa's hero in the 2009 series, entered the fray with 16 minutes remaining, and his first act was to nose the hosts back ahead.

Am's foul on Conor Murray handed Russell the chance to level the scores, an opportunity which the Scot took coolly, but it was Steyn who had the final say.

Herschel Jantjies tried to run the ball after the Boks were awarded a penalty 40 metres out, though fortunately the referee called it back, with Steyn holding his nerve to down the Lions.


OLD NEMESIS STEYN BACK TO HAUNT THE LIONS

Steyn kicked the penalty which settled the 2009 Lions tour in South Africa's favour, and history repeated itself on Saturday.

His 67th Test cap will last long in the memory for South Africa – two penalty opportunities, two successful attempts and a series win. He made four kicks in total in his 18 minutes on the field, including the final one out of play to signal full time and the end of the series. 

South Africa's triumph also means all three matches in this year's Test series were won by the side trailing at half-time.

RUSSELL'S EFFORTS NOT ENOUGH

Like his fellow substitute Steyn, Russell ended the match with a perfect record from the boot – all three of his penalties and his conversion finding the target as he collected 11 points.

It was all in vain, however, and Warren Gatland will be left to lament the indiscipline his team showed in the second half after getting themselves into a strong position. Six Lions tours have gone to a deciding game since they became three-Test series in 1989, with the tourists losing on three occasions, winning twice and drawing once.

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).

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.