Calm before storm in Springboks-Lions series
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Johannesburg (AFP) –
It was all quiet on the rugby front in South Africa on Wednesday as both the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions camps took a one-day break from media briefings.
The teams clash on Saturday in the second Test of three in Cape Town and Rugby World Cup winner South Africa must triumph to remain in contention to win the series after going down 22-17 last weekend.
History is stacked in favour of the Lions as the team winning the first Test in this rivalry has gone on to win the series except for the 1955 edition, which was drawn.
Here, AFP Sport looks a five issues ahead of what promises to be an epic struggle behind closed doors at Cape Town Stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A crisis that Springbok supporters thought had ended three years ago returned last Saturday as the hosts came off second best against an aerial bombardment from the Lions after the break.
During the ill-fated 2016-2017 tenure of coach Allister Coetzee, South Africa were sitting ducks when opponents sent the ball skywards knowing they were most likely to regain possession.
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has acknowledged that it was huge problem with his players often failing to catch the ball or knocking it on.
The supposedly weaker South African trio of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane scrummed well until half-time and replacements Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe struggled in the second half.
Assistant coach Deon Davids explained the surprise half-time substitutions two days later by saying Nche (neck) and Mbonambi (hamstring) were not fit to continue.
Kitshoff said the replacements were caught off guard by Australian referee Nic Berry demanding quick feeds to the scrums, and they also battled with the slippery surface, although that also affected the Lions.
Turbo-charged wingers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi sealed success for South Africa in the 2019 World Cup final against England by scoring second-half tries.
But the pair were starved of chances to score last Saturday after being signalled out before the Test as potential match-winners.
And while they rarely got the ball, opposite numbers Anthony Watson and South Africa-born Duhan van der Merwe made numerous powerful runs, often evading a number of tackles before being halted.
As with many aspects of the Springboks performance, fly-half Handre Pollard had a much better first half than second.
He had four penalty attempts in the opening 40 minutes, from varying angles and distances, and succeeded with all to create a 12-3 half-time advantage for the world champions.
But the playmaker later fluffed the kickable conversion of a Faf de Klerk try and saw a long-range penalty effort veer left to finish with a 66 percent success rate, which is below par for him.
While the Lions were much stronger and more energetic after break in the first Test, the South Africans failed to replicate a first-half showing that gave them plenty of possession and territory.
It was hardly surprising as many Lions entered the series having played up to 15 competitive matches since the coronavirus crisis emerged and the Springboks just one, against second-tier nation Georgia.
South Africa must hope the first top-level challenge since lifting the World Cup in November 2019 will help them go the distance this weekend.
© 2021 AFP