Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett has rued the Springbok inaccuracies but credited the British & Irish Lions’ street smarts in their opening Test victory.
Speaking as a pundit on SuperSport, Mallett felt that one area of the game where the Boks came up second best was the kicking contest. The Lions’ contestable kicks made life difficult of the Springboks in the second half and set the platform for their victory.
“They just kept on winning these aerial battles. They’d put it up there and then get busy counter rucking, smashing our guys. When about 80% of the kicks in the air were going back on the Lions side – their kicks they were catching, and our kicks they were winning back as well. It made for a completely different second half. ”
Mallett has also credited the tourists on their ability to manage the dangerous Cheslin Kolbe. By forcing him into contesting for high-balls they did not allow him any space to counter-attack.
“The Lions were clever though, they didn’t kick long on Cheslin, they kicked high on Cheslin. He’s the bravest guy in the world, but he’s not tall. So it was a difficult thing for him to go up and contest those up-and-unders, difficult for him to collect them and he’s usually very good. They did manage to coral him by not giving him space.”
In spite of the final scoreline, the Boks looked in control at half-time and will feel disappointed to have squandered a lead after a dominant first 40. Mallett gave an example of how fine the margins are.
“It was that close that one poor kick by Faf – the kick Kolbe had to contest where he was tackled into touch – they claimed it was out on the full, which in slow-motion I don’t think it was, but they go back, they set up a driving maul and we concede the penalty.
“It wasn’t a difficult game to sum up really. We predicted it in the week – it was a question about whether the Lions were going to play fast and loose or whether they were going to play the game South Africa play.
“The moment they played the same game as us it makes it very difficult if we don’t get it right. In the first half we were winning those scraps and then you can put pressure on and get penalties or kick for the corner. So it was just little things in that second half.”
The Lions did well to outmuscle the Boks in the mauls and disrupt at the scrum and deprive the men in green and gold of a traditional source of strength. Mallett said that the change of approach from the tourists in the second half to stop playing with as much width eventually reaped rewards.
“We always said the Lions need to match the Boks physically and they did. I thought Alun Wyn Jones summed it up beautifully, he said that the Lions were too quick to go wide, once they stayed in the combat and in the kicking game longer, they got the penalties. So I’m not sure its not the style of champagne rugby you want to watch every weekend but jeez its proper Test match rugby.”
The Boks will have been given a bloody nose by this setback, but Mallett feels there is no question they will improve as the series progresses. They certainly have the personnel to do so.
“We’ve got good players, things can turn and we can get better.”