The 2021 British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa all comes down to this. 80 minutes, between 46 players and the four white lines. Much has been made of the officiating, the style of rugby on display and the changes to both teams ahead of this fixture, so let’s delve into who heads into this fixture as favorites for the series title and the 12 years’ worth of bragging rights that comes with it.
In test 1, the Lions were clear favorites. The Springboks hadn’t had much preparation after their 20 month rugby hiatus and the Lions managed to quash all their opposition with relative ease, bar the blip on their record of the SA “A” game. The first test brought exactly what was expected, a tough first 40 minutes, with neither side giving away too much whilst the Boks entered half time in the lead. The second 40 saw the Lions come out firing and the Springboks lack of game time and fitness was obvious in the latter stages of the game. The B & I Lions strung together an emphatic comeback to win the test and notably the Springboks bench failed to ignite the side.
Test 2 rolled around with the European media treating it as if the Lions were simply going to waltz their way to test and series victory. Clearly they forgot to relay that message to Siya Kolisi and company, who had other plans. The Springboks weathered the first half of the Lions as both teams played a similar style with the high ball featuring prominently. This time the Lions entered the sheds at half time with the lead.
When the second half got underway, the Springbok side hit the ground running and began to physically dominate their opposition. Once the forwards got the go forward, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux were able to settle in and pile pressure on the Lions back 3. There is no denying that where the Lions dominated test 1, they lost test 2. The aerial game of the tourists was abysmal and only a single member of that back 3 was retained for the final test.
Test 3 sees the lions changing up their back 3 substantially. It is crazy to think that this is Josh Adams’ first game, but the selection of Liam Williams at fullback shows they are still intent on beating the Springboks at their own game. This is further supported by the retention of Dan Biggar at 10 and Bundee Aki at 12. The Lion’s seem set to stick with what they did in the first two tests, but have maybe selected the players better suited to this style of play.
The Springboks have two injury enforced changes with the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Faf de Klerk unavailable. They are replaced by Franco Mostert (‘Sous’) and Cobus Reinach. Whilst Reinach offers more on the attacking front, Mostert possesses much the same engine as Du Toit, but make no mistake his absence will be felt. Damian de Allende is the 3rd Springbok to earn their 50th cap this tour and he has proven invaluable in generating go forward ball. The Springboks don’t deny their style of play and we all know we are in for a hugely physical encounter, with a lot of kicking.
The inclusion of Morne Steyn on the bench
shows the coaches are well aware that this match could come down to a last minute kick at goal and have gone for the safest option there is in that regard. The Springboks have a well settled back 3, as well as two of the world’s best centers, who seem to just get better in every game they play together. Whilst the Lions have a new center pairing (albeit Ireland team mates) in Aki and Henshaw and two thirds of the back 3 have been swapped out. They will have to find their feet quickly if they intend on spoiling the Springboks fun out wide and I am most keen for the battle between Aki and De Allende at 12.
Going into test 3, many factors favor the Springboks and it is almost a full reverse of what was said in the media a mere 3 weeks ago. The momentum is with the Springboks. They are more settled as a side and will have benefitted greatly from the two test matches they have now gotten under their belts. I predict a tight first half, with maybe even a tied score at the 40 minute mark. Ultimately though I believe the Springboks will be too powerful in the second 40 and will ultimately win the test and series by at least 11 points.