CAPE TOWN : In beating the British & Irish Lions on Saturday and edging the series 2-1, South Africa added to their World Cup success of 2019 but with little of the conviction and beguiling nature of their victory in Japan.
The Springboks defeated the Lions 2-1 after a narrow 19-16 win in their third and decisive test at the Cape Town Stadium, with the 37-year-old Morne Steyn reprising his winning kick of 12 years earlier when South Africa also squeezed out a series success.
This time, South Africa rode their luck and had some good fortunate in getting victory at the end of another attritional match.
All three tests were intense contests with little flowing play although the Lions made a decent effort in Saturday’s last game to swing the ball. But they were undone by poor decisions at crucial junctures and let success slip through their fingers.
After six weeks cloistered away in a bio-secure bubble, it was a cruel defeat for the tourists, with South Africa’s physicality and stout defence telling in the end.
Although the ferocity of the test battle was compelling at times, this will not be a Lions tour remembered with much fondness. Moments of rugby magic, such as Cheslin Kolbe’s try for South Africa, proved rare.
To be fair, the tour had little going for it from the start, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and devoid of the tens of thousands of supporters who traditionally follow the Lions and ensure a rollicking atmosphere.
The Lions arrived in Johannesburg just as South Africa was grappling with a third wave of novel coronavirus infections and cases inside both camps threatened the tour, with one provincial opponent pulling out and the schedule having to be changed.
Empty stadiums and all the teams involved having to cloister in bio-secure bubbles stripped away the appeal of touring, but all camps did their best to manage difficult situations.
The gamesmanship ahead of the test series added a nasty element, leading to an admonishment from World Rugby to both the Lions and South Africa for questioning match officials.
South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus did his reputation as one of the game’s leading lights no favour with an extraordinary 62-minute video, picking out 26 officiating mistakes after the Springboks lost the first test, that was allegedly leaked.
While it drew much criticism for undermining the values of the game, there was also home sympathy for his complaints. He is now facing a World Rugby disciplinary hearing.
The Lions departed for home on Sunday with an appeal from coach Warren Gatland to the home unions and clubs to allow more preparation time for future tours, starting with Australia in 2025.
Having not played a test in 20 months before July, South Africa now move straight on to the Rugby Championship with two tests against Argentina in Port Elizabeth over the next fortnight before they are scheduled to travel to take on Australia and New Zealand.
(Editing by Clare Fallon; editing by Clare Fallon)