By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa will be hoping an additional week of work on the training pitch will provide them with the necessary physical prowess to overcome the British & Irish Lions in Saturday’s second test and level the three-game series.
A fitter Lions roared back from a nine-point halftime deficit in last Saturday’s first test to win the series opener 22-17 and pile the pressure on the home country, whose own preparations had been hampered by COVID-19 infections.
While the world champion Springboks started strongly, the Lions cleverly kept the ball in play longer than usual in an attritional test match, sucking the energy out of the hosts and forcing them into fatigue-filled errors.
It allowed the tourists to come back for a major morale-boosting win at the Cape Town Stadium, the venue for all three tests.
South Africa were also caught under the high ball, notably No.8 Kwagga Smith, who has given way to Jasper Wiese in Saturday’s team. Coach Jacques Nienaber also sought to strengthen the front row with the selection of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe to counter the Lions’ decision to bring Maka Vunipola back into their starting XV.
Vunipola made a strong cameo appearance as a substitute in the first test to reaffirm his prowess after looking underwhelming in the early tour games.
Anticipating another early barrage from their hosts, Lions coach Warren Gatland has the experienced Conor Murray in at scrumhalf for better game management and Chris Harris at outside centre, where his physical approach is needed to counter the home midfield threat.
Lions coach Warren Gatland has said he will be looking for a better start from his side: “We probably, at times, put ourselves under a bit of pressure by shifting the ball on occasions, getting caught behind the gain line and allowing them to get some breakdown turnovers. We’ve just got to be really smart in terms of game management.”
South Africa have much to improve, according to Nienaber. “We need to be better in every area of the game this week, and the set pieces will be crucial in laying the foundations we need to execute our game plan effectively.”
The build-up to the test has continued to be marked by efforts at influencing the match officials. The Lions were critical ahead of the first test after South African Marius Jonker was named Television Match Official. This week South African Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has sought to turn the heat up on the officials in a series of social media posts and at a news conference appearance on Tuesday.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)