The Springboks were beaten 22 -17 in the first test of the series in Cape Town. After holding a commanding lead at the break, the Springboks surrendered their momentum to the Lions and were their own worst enemies as they lost the aerial battle and the contest amongst the forwards. Some questionable substitutions lead to a rapid shift in momentum, and with the lack of game time, chasing the game was not something the Boks were ready to do.
The Springboks started well in the opening exchanges with Ox Nche proving his worth as an up and coming loose head. His fellow front rowers, Mbonambi and Nyakane also put in a strong display and had control over the B & I Lions scrum for much of the 1st 40. Their immediate substitution after the break raised eye brows, as the trio of Kitshoff, Marx and Malherbe failed to maintain the dominance upfront, somewhat surprisingly based on their quality.
Handre Pollard kept the scoreboard ticking in the first half and was having a commanding performance in the flyhalf berth. However two missed kicks in the second half assisted in handing the momentum to the visitors. Lukhanyo Am was a top performer in the backline, with a big hit on Elliot Daly early on setting the tone from a physicality perspective. Whilst the backs showed some deft touches at times and had some solid runs, they failed to execute and a number of decisions went against them when reviewed by the TMO.
The biggest worries from this game however come from the Springboks supposed biggest strengths, their maul and kicking game. Whilst paying dividends in the 1st half, the Boks really struggled in these departments in the second 40. Cheslin Kolbe was exposed by some accurate high balls from Dan Biggar, which isolated him and took him out of the second phase. He couldn't catch a break to put his agility to use and Duhan van der Merwe definitely one the battle on the night. The B & I Lions won the aerial battle in the second half and with it they were able to establish a foothold in the game, and clawed their way into the lead.
Up front, it was shocking to see how impotent the Bok maul was. In Japan the Springboks utilized their maul to perfection, however they failed to replicate this. The Lions dealt with the challenge up front with ease on Saturday, particularly in the second half. The failure to create a solid attacking platform from the Line out and Scrum robbed them of their biggest strength and they failed to trigger a plan b in their attempts to beat the Lions.
The Springboks bench needs a re-look as well as to how it is deployed. The timing of the substitutes was infective this past weekend and failed to raise the tempo of the game. Elton Jantjies simply doesn't bring game winning ability off the bench and either of Morne or Frans Steyn should be called up to duty behind Pollard. Duane Vermeulen was sorely missed as well and a possible look in at Jasper Wiese should also be on the table.
The tourists changed their plans in the second half and really did well to expose the Springboks weaknesses and lack of match fitness. It is not all doom and gloom though as the side now have some experience to work off and everything to play for in the next fixture, to prevent a series loss. Rassie and Jacques will put the boys through their paces this week and expect to see a much improves side come Saturday.