Sunday, 5 July 2009

3rd Test: British Lions 28 - 9 South Africa

The empire struck back yesterday in the third and final test of the 2009 British Lions tour to South Africa. The Springboks may have been playing for justice, but this time they were out of luck and soundly beaten by a better team on the day.

"Justice 4"

The Springboks came out wearing white armbands with the words "Justice 4" printed on them - a reference to the citing and subsequent suspension of Bakkies Botha after an innocuous challenge in the second test which unfortunately left Adam Jones with a dislocated shoulder. The South African camp clearly feel that Botha has been unfairly treated by being suspended for what they feel is a routine part of the game. This was nicely illustrated in the 36th minute of the match when Jamie Heaslip produced a carbon copy clear-out which didn't raise an eyebrow from any of the officials, and almost certainly won't result in a citing (unless the Springboks do so to make a point).


The Springboks may have seen it as a bad omen to have Stuart Dickinson reffing the match - prior to which they had only won two of the last eight games in which he was the on-field referee. The most contentious issue of the match for the Springboks came in the 76th minute when wing Odwa Ndungane's foot was adjudged to be in touch in the act of scoring, by the third umpire. Not that this was Stu Dickinson's fault - even he seemed surprised, as he'd already stated that the player had not been in touch, and had asked the third umpire simply to check the grounding of the ball. Still, what goes around comes around - in the previous match the Lions were also denied in very similar circumstances.

The boot's on the other foot

In fact, in many ways the Lions beat the Springboks at their own game yesterday with their stifling defence, scoring from quick turnovers and interceptions, and general intensity. They created more scoring opportunities, and were more successful at converting those opportunities into points than the Boks. And they will not fail to spot the irony in the Ndungane incident, and also Zane Kirchner's almost-try in which the Lions managed to dislodge the ball as he was crossing the line - echoes of the first test.

Ugo Monye achieved a measure of redemption for those first-test shortcomings by producing a long-range interception try reminiscent of Bryan Habana or Jean de Villiers (neither of whom were included in the Springbok team). And Shane Williams on the other wing looked back to his best, producing some magical touches and scoring two excellent tries in the process.

Forward domination

This was built on a good forward display, which saw the Lions in the ascendency. They scrummed better, defended the Springbok rolling maul much better than in previous tests, and employed it to good effect themselves at times. This produced a platform which gave the backs more space to play.

There was also some canny, but slightly cynical play at times to disrupt the South Africans: Simon Shaw produced a block which resulted in the first Shane Williams try; Martyn Williams was a real nuisance, preventing the Springboks from taking quick restarts - once this resulted in him being picked up and unceremoniously dumped by Heinrich Brussow and then Pierre Spies. The Boks may rightly feel a bit aggrieved that the referee allowed them to get away with this sort of behaviour. A similar indicent in the final ten minutes saw the Lions being awarded a penalty right in front of the posts when Brussow similarly tossed Mike Phillips to the ground for preventing them taking a quick option. One would not like to get on Mr Brussow's wrong side in a dark alleyway...


The Springboks may count themselves unlucky that some decisions that went in their favour in the first two matches went against them yesterday. But on balance the better team won on the day. In the end the British Lions needed to win more, to end their record losing streak and restore some pride to the jersey.

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