Courting O'Keefe: 5 talking points ahead of the Lions' second Test
The British and Irish Lions collide with South Africa in Saturday’s second Test at Cape Town Stadium. Here the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into a match that could decide the outcome of the tour.
The Lions stand 80 minutes away from taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series and momentum is fully behind them after finishing a tense first Test strongly. Only twice since 1896 have the Lions prevailed in South Africa and Alun Wyn Jones’ men are on the brink of taking their place alongside Willie John McBride’s fabled 1974 tourists and Martin Johnson’s vintage of 1997. Success would also elevate head coach Warren Gatland alongside Sir Ian McGeechan as one of great figures in Lions history.
MASTERSTROKE OR MADNESS?
The build-up to a seismic showdown has been tarnished by Rassie Erasmus’ hour-long critique of referee Nic Berry from the first Test, an extraordinary and unprecedented blast at one of the game’s leading officials. Released online, the video monologue savages Berry’s performance, criticises the Lions and defends the South Africa director of rugby’s controversial role as a waterboy. Clearly his intention is to influence Saturday’s referee Ben O’Keeffe, but the sheer scale of the takedown can only be counterproductive and World Rugby must act.
Meanwhile, the Lions have launched a full-scale charm offensive designed to counter Erasmus’ staggering attack on officialdom. Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg has described O’Keeffe as one of the game’s finest referees and forwards coach Robin McBryde has called the Kiwi a “top man”. It continues the mind games that began in the aftermath of the South Africa ‘A’ game on July 14 but which only went nuclear with Erasmus’ video. Gatland and the Lions appear to be schooling the world champions on the psychological front and the second Test is sure to provide a new twist.
Seeing the rate at which the Springboks fell away in the second half, it is hard not to conclude that they were substantially affected by the outbreak of coronavirus that forced the entire squad to self-isolate for six days and saw 14 players test positive. With a full-blooded Test match in the legs, as well as another week’s training in the bank, they will be hoping they can sustain the level of performance that propelled them into a 12-3 half-time lead in the first Test.
In anticipation of the looming assault from the world champions, the Lions have solidified their midfield by replacing Elliot Daly with Chris Harris and added greater structure to their game through picking Conor Murray instead of Ali Price at scrum-half. It signals that Gatland has dispensed with the approach of looking to run the Springboks ragged in favour of meeting their onslaught head-on before looking to open up later in the game.
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