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Two Sides: it’s war, both on the field and off it

Episode two of the brilliant Two Sides documentary aired on 22 May, and viewers were once again treated to unparalleled insights into what went on during last year’s British & Irish Lions series in South Africa.

The focus of the second episode is squarely on the first Test of the series. It’s also, once again, on the in-depth stories of some of the players, and that, along with the behind-the-scenes access to what goes on during coaching and preparation, is what makes it so special. In the build up to the first Test, we are reminded of just how important being a Lion is for the players, as we see Alun Wyn Jones give everything to make an almost miraculous recovery from the shoulder injury that had ruled him out of the series. We also see what Alun being rushed back into the squad means for Connor Murray, who loses the captaincy as a result, and is ultimately dropped to the bench for the first Test. You do have to really feel for him. And we see what it means to Stuart Hogg to get his first Lions Test cap after missing out on his previous two tours. His interviews are really moving, and I want to like him again, but I'm still not over the 'alleged' biting incident that we all saw the footage of, I'm just saying. Maybe there'll be more on that in the next episode.

There’s also a really interesting juxtaposition between the stories and the families of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duhan van der Merwe. Rugby clearly runs in the veins of both men, and their families, but Duhan opted to play abroad, and it’s no mean feat to be selected for the Lions only a year after his Scottish debut. His father appears conflicted about having to support the opposition, but his mother is all in, that’s for sure (and who can really blame her, in fairness). On the other hand, we have Pieter-Steph, who’s family is basically Springbok royalty, and who are equally proud to see their son take the field in the green and gold, especially after the comeback he’s had to make from a terrible injury that almost saw him lose his leg.

And of course, it is during the build up to this first Test that the war of words really began between Rassie Erasmus and Warren Gatland. I quite like that Jacques Nienaber just stays out of it and goes about the business of coaching the best team in the world. It was, however, interesting to hear Rassie note that he and Warren had an agreement before the series that this media war wouldn’t happen. That was probably always wishful thinking. Rassie takes a lot of flak over his social media shenanigans, but it’s worth being reminded that the war was started by the Lions camp, complaining about Faf de Klerk’s yellow card, Rassie’s role as water boy, and the appointment of a South African TMO (which in fairness is usually unheard of, but COVID requires these concessions) in the media.

On the field, the war continued in a different way, with the victory going to the Lions in the end, as we know. It really was, as the cliché goes, a game of two halves, as the Springboks dominated in the first, and the momentum shifted in the second. Joy for the Lions, heartbreak for the Springboks (and their fans – that one hurt). But, while not explicitly said, we are reminded that the commentary about an impartial TMO in the build up to the game certainly had its intended impact – Marius Jonker made some…interesting…calls, and none of them favoured the Boks. Overcompensating in an effort not to appear biased? Ultimately though, all the interviewed players identify what led to their downfall – they became frustrated, and they lost their composure. Of course, the Lions capitalised. I have to feel that their frustration wasn’t just about what was going on during that game – perhaps it was the cumulative frustration of two years of lost opportunities and a series that, while it was amazing that it was going ahead, wasn’t quite what it should have been, as they played in echoingly empty stadiums. I thought Rassie’s comment after the game, that they had lost their sense of what it meant to be a Springbok during the two-year absence, was harsh but probably fair.

The episode ends with a glimpse into the storm brewing over Rassie’s infamous video, which I believe now more than ever he did not release to the public himself. There’s really just no motivation for him to have done so. I have my thoughts on who released it, but let’s wait for next week’s episode, and see what unfolds behind the scenes.

Two Sides is airing every Sunday from 15-29 May 2022 at 18:00 on MNet (101) at 18:00 and SuperSport Grandstand and SuperSport Rugby at 19:00 (201 and 211). It is also available on Catch Up.

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