After 60 minutes of ponderous rugby, trailing by 19 points you got the feeling that not only the test but series was slipping away from the Lions. A team can bounce back from a defeat, but a hammering? Thankfully the tourists showed the character the knew they had, and for twenty minutes utterly outplayed the Springboks.
So it’s 1-0 and advantage South Africa but the Lions have every right to believe they can upset the world champions on this tour. Once the scrum and line out finally began to function the visitors proved that with the right platform they can take the world champions apart.
Just as they have done all tour, Roberts and O’ Driscoll looked a deadly combination, constantly on each others’ shoulder, sucking in defenders and hitting gaps. The pair cut right through the ‘Boks for Crofts 1st try and both played a part in the back rows second score. Opposite them De Villiers and Jacobs posed no attacking threat and struggled to handle the pace and power of the Lions duo.
Credit must go to Rob Kearney who had done nothing wrong all tour but hadn’t excited as much as Byrne. Thrown into the cauldron today, he looked unfazed and confident. He was imperious under the high ball, kicked superbly and made metres with ball in hand. His performance was such that he can feel hard done by if he doesn’t start next week.
Bowe showed no signs of nerves opposite the deadliest finisher in the game. In fact it was the Ospreys man who looked the greater threat. A try was on if he’d had sufficient support having burst through Smith and into the Bok 22 late on. Monye looked dangerous and strong but crucially he had two try chance and failed to convert on both occasions. The 1st was forgivable, excellent defence and the touchline kept him out but his knock on at the line when a try was desperately needed was a horrific error, would Fitzgerald have done better?
Not omly did Rees and Jones improve the basics they also added some intesntiy around the field. Jenkins was he usualy energetic self.Croft, a player whose physicaltiy was questioned before the test put in an inspired 80 minutes. He finished his tries well but was also first in every restart chase and hit tackles with a ferocity not seen in a tigers jersey.
With these positives to build on it’s clear that if the Lions get their basics right, get a bit more luck and play to their strenghts they most certainly have the beating of the Springboks.