South Africa v British and Irish Lions: Gatland rolls the dice for decider

By Sports Desk August 06, 2021

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).

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