Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber believes that the British & Irish Lions’ superior kicking and aerial display swung the contest in the visitors’ favour.
The Lions were on the back foot for much of the first half. They struggled to cope with the Boks at the scrum during this period, and were outplayed whenever the hosts launched a contestable kick.
The Boks went to the break with a commanding 12-3 lead. At that stage, they looked to be on course for a comfortable victory.
The Lions, however, rallied to produce a superior set-piece and breakdown performance in the second stanza. On the back of this dominant display, they launched a series of contestable kicks and forced the hosts to concede possession and penalties.
“We lost this game in the air,” Nienaber said afterwards. “We got the rewards in this department in the first half. After half-time, however, they dominated us in the air, and that gave them territory and broken-field opportunities.
“I don’t think you can blame the performance on a lack of cohesion,” the Bok coach added. Due to the pandemic-enforced travel restrictions, South Africa did not play Test rugby for 20 months. Their preparation for the three Tests against the Lions was disrupted when a number of their players and coaches were sidelined by Covid-19.
“I think it’s well documented that we haven’t played a lot together over the past year or so, and that a number of us have been affected by Covid. But we can’t say that is the reason for this defeat.
“We certainly didn’t lack cohesion in the first half of this match. It’s in the second half where we struggled to match the Lions in the air.
“We knew that they were going to come at us with that kind of approach. If you look back to the SA A-Lions match last week, the Lions kicked a lot more in that fixture. We knew it was coming in this Test match. Our plan to handle that challenge worked well in the first half, but our execution wasn’t there in the second.
“We knew that we had to lift our game at the breakdown and that our discipline needed to be sharp. But we gave away some stupid penalties in the second half. It’s something we will have to address.”
Nienaber also lamented the missed opportunities in the second stanza. The Boks scored one try against the run of play through Faf de Klerk. They crossed the tryline on two more occasions, only for the TMO to disallow both scores.
“They were the right calls,” Nienaber said of TMO Marius Jonker’s decisions. “At the time, I thought it was incredibly tight. Sometimes those calls go for you and sometimes they don’t. One went for us [when De Klerk’s try was awarded] and the other two didn’t.”
The Boks will have seven days to turn it all around. Another defeat against the Lions would amount to a series defeat.
“We have no choice but to fix it,” Nienaber said. “It’s definitely salvageable, and as you saw in the first half we got a lot right. We got things wrong in the second half, but I don’t think it’s anything that we can’t sort out before the second Test.”