If the Springboks stay hungry they will humiliate the Lions in the process of claiming an emphatic series win.
The Lions were spared a deserved flogging last week when a string of substitutions curtailed the Boks’ momentum. What should have been a comfortable victory by a 25-point margin ended a five-point squeaker.
Accuracy and consistency need to be the Bok buzzwords this weekend. The sum total is a series victory, but a more clinical showing should result in a more convincing win both on the park and on the scoreboard.
Schalk Burger’s return is a massive boost. The Bok back row were dominant last week, and while they lose Brussow’s fetching prowess this Saturday, they gain the cannon-ball running strength of Burger.
The Stormers’ flanker will also shore up the defence significantly. With respect to Brussow, the Cheetahs’ No 6 is not going to knock lummoxes like Jamie Heaslip back. Burger can and, in all likelihood, will.
The changes to the Lions’ front row will test the Bok scrum, but it’s a combination the South Africans stood up to in Cardiff last November. The momentum is also with the Boks in this department and, while they won’t dominate like they did last week, they should provide a solid platform for the backs.
Simon Shaw has been brought in to counter Bakkies Botha’s physicality, but on his recent performances in the provincial matches, you can’t even consider him a contender. Aside from this aspect, Botha will also play his part in a dominant lineout that includes Victor Matfield, Juan Smith and Pierre Spies. The Boks should have great attacking ball from this set-piece and continue to upset the Lions’ throw.
An upset can be achieved by winning the territorial game and exposing the Boks’ weak defence in the outside channels. Adi Jacobs has a lot to prove this Saturday, and the Lions have all but painted a bull’s eye on his chest. He needs to take the fight to the opposition without shooting out of line, and communication, something that was hardly apparent at King’s Park, needs to better.
Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar have only played two Tests together but looked solid last week. Du Preez will be more comfortable at Loftus where his tactical kicking will come to the fore, and in this department, Pienaar has shown he’s no slouch.
Frans Steyn is a drop-kick threat and his line-kicking will pin the Lions back. In Rob Kearney, however, the Lions have a prodigious punter of the rugby ball. In the battle for territory, he is the Lions’ key player. Mike Phillips and Stephen Jones are still important, but Kearney could put real pressure on the Bok back-three if he adapts to highveld conditions early on.
The Boks can’t afford to stray from the game plan that proved so efficient in the first half last week. They will kick for territory and look to strike from within the opposition half. If they can control possession better than they did in Durban, they should prove too strong for the Lions yet again.
The Lions are hoping a multi-phase attack will wear the Boks down, but other than said weak spot at 13, the home defence is just too good to succumb to this tactic.
Prediction: Boks by 15
Springboks – 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Adi Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (c), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Chilliboy Ralepelle, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Heinrich Brussow, 21 Jaque Fourie, 22 Morne Steyn.
British & Irish Lions – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Andrew Sheridan, 18 Alun-Wyn Jones, 19 Martyn Williams, 20 Harry Ellis, 21 Ronan O’Gara, 22 Shane Williams.
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg