Injuries, uncontested scrums, a yellow card instead of a red, a lack of intensity in the second half and a moment of madness from Ronan O’ Gara all added up in the end as Morne Steyn’s injury time penalty broke Lions’ hearts.
Having played so well for the first 40 minutes the Lions fully deserved their 16-8 lead and probably should have been further ahead. In total contrast to last weekend they started the brighter. The men in red made sure the majority of play took place in the Springbok half. With Burger in the bin after gouging Fitzgerald, a deed which blatantly warranted a red card, the Lions notched 10 points including a wonderful try from Rob Kearney who played the game of his life at full-back. The scrum was a far cry from the disaster it was in the opening test with Shaw, Rees and Jones adding extra power which the beast and co. struggled to cope with. The line out was shaky but functioned quite well. With these two platforms in place we saw how well the Lions could attack the Boks.
Having used Roberts as a battering ram last week, the Lions cleverly deployed the Cardiff man as a decoy allowing O’ Driscoll,Kearney and Bowe to hit gaps. With Jones kicking beautifully and the pack matching the Boks in terms of physicality, the contest was much more even. Instead of allowing South Africa attack, the Lions were asking questions of them in defence and the Wold Champions weren’t finding all the answers.
Another 40 minutes of the same and it’d be 1 test all and advantage Lions. McGeechan’s men however played a dangerous game in the second half and ultimately payed the price. Almost content with their lead, the Lions allowed South Africa to control the game, inviting the home team to claw back the deficit which had stretched to 11 points on the hour mark. As kick after kick reigned down on Steyn and Spies the men in green refused to hand possession back to the Lions charging into contact and forcing their way over the gain-line.
As a result the visitors had to put their bodies on the line repeatedly and the intensity of the collisions inevitably took their toll. Props Jenkins and Jones were forced off as were Roberts and O’ Driscoll. Uncontested scrums nullified the Lions superiority up front and suddenly Spies was able to break from the base to devastating effect. Crucially the outstanding partnership of Roberts and BOD ceased as both men left the field injured. On came Shane Williams and Ronan O’ Gara, suddenly it was a completely make-shift backline facing up the likes of Steyn, Habana, Pierteson and the powerful Fourie.
It would be an exaggeration to say that O’ Gara lost the Lions the test but he definitely didn’t help the cause. Having replaced the inspirational O’ Driscoll, O’Gara missed a tackle that the Leinster man would have nailed on Fourie who touched down in the corner. With Morne Steyn kicking on his home turf he was always likely to add the extras even from the corner. The tide had swung firmly in favour of the Boks who now led 22-25 and were buoyed by their comeback, in contrast the Lions were out on their feet and looking a shadow of the team they’d been in the first half. Inspired by the likes of Shaw and Kearney though Geech’s men rallied and levelled the scores when Jones landed a penalty. Two minutes to go, scores level it looked set for a tied match giving the Lions a chance to tie the series in the final test. Having been much the better team for most of the 2nd test the tourists would have fancied their chances next Saturday and there’s no shame in a tied series in the back yard of the world champions. It wasn’t to be however as O’ Gara suffered a rush of blood to the head in the game’s last movement, instead of banishing the ball to row Z he kicked an up-and-under, that was a mistake but to foul De Preez in the air was an outrage. Kicking at altitude in front of a Blue Bulls crowd, it was a forgone conclusion that Steyn would do the needful and avenge the Lions triumph of 12 years ago.