The SA "A" side won their game against the British and Irish Lions 17 - 13 in a tight encounter. The South African's didn't score a point in the second half, whilst the Lions were only able to breach their defensive line when they were reduced to 13 men after yellow cards to Faf de Klerk and Marco van Staden shortly before the break.
The SA "A" team showed no rust as they set about asserting their physical presence on the tourists. All doubts about the ability of this tour to live up to expectation were thrown out the window. The Lions were tested on both attack and defense and whilst little can be read into the result itself, both sides will have learnt a lot ahead of the test series. A special mention must go out to Mako Vunipola who successfully made two 1 on 1 tackles on the fleet footed Cheslin Kolbe.
1. The South African physicality is the Lions biggest obstacle.
From the get go when the B & I Lions announced their squad, the forwards were an arear of concern as Gatland had opted for athletic prowess over power. The omission of the likes of CJ Stander, Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi meant the Lions would be looking to deploy an expansive game plan. They showed in the previous fixtures how lethal they can be with ball in hand but their pack had not been truly tested. Some shakiness at scrum time and line-out was expected in the early stages, but the tourists will need to focus on the set pieces going forward.
Aside from the set piece exchanges, the Lions struggled to earn the space out wide as the forwards found it difficult to gain momentum up front with the SA "A" sides strong defense. This mean their time on the ball was drastically reduced. Their inability to break the SA line before the first half showed how much work needs to be done if they hope to outmuscle a full strength Springbok pack in just over a week.
2. Cheslin Kolbe and Tom Curry shine
Whilst Kolbe is a definite started in the Bok side, it was great to see him out on the pitch again and he had a busy evening, ultimately earning man of the match. Tom Curry however is playing for a tightly contested position in his squad but tonight surely secured the starting jersey. The player was a stand out in fronting up to the South African's and proved a menace when carrying the ball. Curry and Kolbe were at the forefront of the strength of either side and are in top form ahead of the test series.
I cant wait to see Kolbe come up against Josh Adams in the series as Adams was a late change in the fixture due to the birth of his child. This potential match up could prove to be the talking point of the series.
3. Discipline will be key as always
The SA "A" side saw two yellow cards shortly before the break and were lucky to only concede a single try as a result. The British & Irish Lions too suffered discipline lapses as two consecutive penalties after a try was denied for Rees-Zammit saw them marched back over 80m down field.
There is no doubt that when both sides are at full strength for the series, those kind of errors will be punished far more harshly. Silly errors like Faf's shoulder charge which had it been higher, would have resulted in a red, should be focused on. For a first proper contest though, one can be quite pleased with most of the game as the boys got stuck into one another from start to finish.
4. The kicking game is key.
Morne Steyn made a welcome return to the green and gold, albeit in the "A" side. He however showed great composure in the crucial flyhalf berth. He should definitely be the second choice behind Handre Pollard and will be eager to improve on his kicking performance after a missed penalty and a drop goal.
Owen Farrell was a late inclusion for Dan Biggar for a second time and also missed one from the tee. Whilst I've always though the would be wearing the 12 jersey, the injuries to Russell and Biggar could mean he is now being looked at as the first choice flyhalf. He will also need to focus on being more clinical in this department as he kicked one penalty dead.
All in all it was a great contest between two sides and rugby fans were essentially treated to an unofficial 4th test. There are many aspects that need work but one thing is for sure, the aura created about the touring side will need some rebuilding after many of the comments made surrounding the Boks being undercooked were proven wrong today.