What was probably most irritating about the 26-7 scoreline with 50 minutes on the clock, was that the ‘Boks had acquired a commanding lead by playing mediocre rugby. The wold champions were far from spectacular but they didn’t need to be spectacular against a Lion’s team that couldn’t establish a platform. Much was made of the breakdown before today’s encounter, and it did prove somewhat problematic for the tourists, but the test was won and lost on the most basic aspects of the game.
The scrum and line out are your bread and butter in rugby, if they don’t function then you’re immediately fighting an uphill battle, as the Lions were for 60 minutes. The scrum, in particular was a disaster. An area where the Lions excelled before today, repeatedly lead to Boks penalties which allowed Pienaar and Steyn to add easy points. Vickery endured a torrid time against “The Beat” although referee Bryce Lawrence turned a blind eye the South Africans diagonal engagement.
Lee Mears did little to steady the ship, repeatedly missing his jumper in the line out. Again, the line out had functioned well before today but when the big match arrived the Lions couldn’t raise their game. With no scrum and no line out the visitors realistically had no chance.
The worst part is that behind the pack the Lions had a back line that was infinitely better than their Springbok counterparts. Whenever the ball did reach the midfield Roberts and O’ Driscoll tore the South African defence apart. The duo were the key to both Tom Croft tries. Bowe and Monye certainly seemed to have the measure of Habana and Pietersen and Kearney was outstanding at full back, rising to the occasion after a luke-warm start by Lee Byrne.
When Jones and Rees came on the address the issues in the line out and scrum the Lions had complete control of the game. Admittedly aided by some rash substitutions by De Villiers, the men in red almost staged an amazing come back. With a decent platform Philips was able to get his pack running into channels and providing quick ball for the centres to exploit space. With the game dying the ‘Boks looked desperate and rusty while the Lions grew in composure and intensity.
In the end the late surge wasn’t enough to undo the damage caused in the first half. Another 10 or even 5 minutes would almost certainly have brought a Lions try. The Lions are left to rue the basic errors early on which cost them a test they could easily have won. To have any hope next week they need a solid scrum and line out to allow their superior back line do the damage.