Well then, the Lions Series is on! Despite plenty of commentary about the first Test lacking in the aesthetics department, this was proper old fashioned Test rugby, and the Lions deserved win has well and truly breathed new life into a series that way too many expected would be a comfortable Springboks clean sweep.
No doubt, there will be plenty of soul-searching in the Boks camp. A search for inspiration, no doubt. And of self-reflection, I’m sure. Let me, then, offer up the haunting words of Toto’s 1982 cult classic, Africa…
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become
I can certainly picture Kwagga Smith rocking and crying himself to sleep now. “You can’t really see Kilimanjaro from the Serengeti,” he’d be saying.
“But I can still see Courtney Lawes’ thighs, thundering toward me…”
Oh, what a series we now have!
But what of the second Test this week? And are SANZAAR looking at the Tournament Hub pt.2?
Question 1: Did South Africa get out-Springbok’d by the British and Irish Lions in the first Test? And who is now under the most pressure heading into the second Test this weekend?
The Boks forgot to Bok.
Rassie morphed into Heyneke. Nienaber was more nie than ja. Willie couldn’t find a Lion to tackle.
Kolbe looked small. So did Kwagga.
The midfield was the only good thing, besides the locks who are always good, and the bad front row, which was better than the good front row. The Lions played Scottish until oranges, at which time they played a Welsh-Bok style, and came roaring back.
Pressure is on the coaches. They’ve selected a proper 8. I’d keep props on if they’re still playing well, and hush any chatter of unfair TMOs.
It was a good, well-won Lions victory. Test 2 is going to be a fitting bookend for the 2009 series. Does Gatland become the Dean of coaches? Or does Nienaber show he is the coach, and can learn?
I’m not sure the Lions did anything special to win the first Test, which may well be the very point of the question!
What they did do was execute more efficiently, muscle-up in the trenches, kick from and to better positions, and have a few more avenues to victory than their opponent.
The Boks have had a long time off – more than eighteen months – and chose not to come up with new personnel or new tactics. So even though they are now under pressure, it’s hard to envisage them panicking and changing their approach too much in just a week. Going bigger, with a 6/2 bench split, also tells a story.
Off field, things have got a bit weird, with Rassie still pretending not to be coach when he is, and running commentary on referees via Twitter.
The game itself will come as a relief. Even more so if we see a bit more rugby played this week.
Yep, they did. But the bigger problem right here, right now, is that I evidently forgot I’d asked this question of the guys when I sat down to write my column for Tuesday. There’s 900+ words on this very subject just back down the page a bit!
The pressure question is a good one though, if I do say so myself.
The easy answer would be to say it’s all on South Africa, who now are playing to save the series, on home soil, and after creating for themselves a 21-month preparation period.
They played very bog-standard 2019-Springbok game, which was handy given they’d run the 2019 Springboks out on the park. But the game has moved on a bit since the Boks won the Cup, and there is certainly now pressure on them to show – in a week – that they can tweak their game as they needed. They can’t be outmuscled at set piece again, they can’t concede the breakdown contest again, and they certainly can’t forget about the blokes in jerseys 11, and 13 to 15.
But, I also think there’s a bit of pressure – not as much – on the Lions to prove that the first Test wasn’t just a team coming good on the night. Warren Gatland emerged on top with whatever he said at halftime last week, but it will be every bit as challenging to take his side to another level this week.
I do not believe the Lions out-Bokked the Boks at all, I believe the Boks out-Bokked themselves.
It is no surprise to see a South African side play conservatively but that was quite mad really. I wanted to reach through the screen and grab Faf by the scruff and strangle him if he box kicked again.
That was a Lions backline to be tested with ball in hand, and with the pace the Boks boasted out wide it was quite infuriating to watch their approach, even more so as they slowly succumbed in the middle of the park.
I still believe the Springboks can get up in this series, but it will take some turnaround tactically in the second outing. It would appear Gatland and co have the upper hand on that front over their rivals, Rassie or no burner accounts, I mean Rassie.
As for the question about pressure, no doubt in my mind it is all on the Springboks. Their rugby public is just as demanding and expectant of their national side as New Zealanders are of the All Blacks and a response will be expected, indeed demanded of their charges and they will be feeling that weight.
They were outplayed up front in an area South Africa prides themselves upon and when you can arguably boast one of the, if not the best player in the world at blindside in the number the rest of the world calls openside, yeah, pressure is well on to front lads.
Question 2: Does the worsening COVID situation in Australia and especially in Sydney shorten the odds of another hub version of The Rugby Championship? And if so, where would make the most sense to play it?
I don’t think we can know yet what will happen.
Covid has a couple of excellent vaccines, but resistance to the best vaccine response in history is absurdly high.
That’s the key: overcoming decliners and shortage of vaccines.
I don’t envy the administrators one little bit.
NSW is almost certainly out of business and the New Zealand bubble restrictions severely curtail options.
Just like with the 2032 Olympics, it’s beginning to look like all roads lead to Queensland, even if, just like the Olympics, nobody else is willing or able to host.
There’s a lot to play out yet, however. Just getting the Bledisloe Cup played will be an achievement, and South Africa obviously has their focus elsewhere.
And if it is to be a Queensland hub, I doubt the Bokke and Puma’s players will be looking on at images of NRL players being banished from their balconies, with those sliding doors gaffer-taped shut, and wishing it was them.
Yep, looks that way, doesn’t it.
And, taking into account concessions from New Zealand Rugby this week, I think it might end up back in Australia again. Or at least, it will quite likely start in Australia.
Obviously, all stops are currently being pulled out to get the first two Bledisloe Tests played in New Zealand before the All Blacks and Wallabies make their way to a near sold-out Perth Stadium for Game 3.
By that point, South Africa and Argentina will also be playing each other, and I suspect sooner rather than later we’ll find out where those games are to be played. I think everyone thinks Australia, I just don’t think it’s been said yet.
“At this stage we would be planning on remaining in Australia and the two All Blacks-Argentina Tests which were scheduled in New Zealand will be played in Australia,” NZR general manager professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum told New Zealand media earlier in the week.
“That’s our expectation at the moment. We don’t see any way we would be able to bring Argentina into New Zealand for those two games.”
As to the ‘where’ part of the question, I suppose the answer is “anywhere but Sydney” and almost certainly not New South Wales at all, with the other states’ current stance on New South Welsh types.
Melbourne quite likely becomes an option soon, and you would have to think Perth and Brisbane would be in line for extra games too. Probably the Gold Coast and Townsville, too.
Canberra? Doubtful. It was a surprise to get one Test this year; I’d be stunned if there was a second.
As I consider this question, Sydney is extending their lockdown and increasing the areas to a further eight suburban areas I believe, so those odds look very short indeed.
It would make sense to my mind to shift the matches over to New Zealand in this instance as we seem to be more in control of the virus at present (touch wood) and simply because it was in Australia last year, assuming everyone can get their heads (and New Zealand Govt) around quarantine for a couple of weeks.
Seems reasonable to me in that respect, and given the local NRL comp has been shifted up to Queensland and then that fumble ball also, there doesn’t seem to be much room in Australia anyway when you take away NSW.
Come on over boys!
OVER TO YOU: Who wins the second Test of the Lions Series in Cape Town?
And is the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship heading for Tournament Hub pt.2?