Crunch time for much-awaited Springboks v Lions clash
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Cape Town - After all the uncertainty, the Springboks’ three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions is finally here. The first Test takes place on Saturday at the Cape Town Stadium at 6pm.
Because of the pandemic, there has been an unprecedented build-up to the quadrennial event, with the Boks having been particularly hard hit.
Over the last few months there have been numerous logistical issues regarding the series due to the Covid-19 situation in South Africa. From talks of hosting the series elsewhere to settling on having all three Tests played in Cape Town as opposed to two in Gauteng and one in the Mother City, the opening Test is happening at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 6pm). With one major difference to past Tours, however.
It’s well known that this series will be played in empty stadiums, as was the case with the domestic competitions South African sides contested over the past year. It’s certainly not an ideal situation, but one that was expected given the rate of infections in the country.
The Boks have overcome a hugely disruptive Covid-19 outbreak in their camp, which affected both players and management, and had a host of key players only rejoin team training on Monday after being forced into isolation in Johannesburg.
All this after their second Test against Georgia earlier this month was canned due to positive cases in both camps after the first Test in Pretoria – which was the Boks’ first taste of international rugby in exactly 20 months. After that, a South Africa “A” side comprised of the available Bok players beat the Lions, who have had no shortage of Test and club minutes over the last year, 17-13 at Cape Town Stadium.
Given all that, naturally, talks of the South Africans being undercooked have been all round. World Cup-winning hooker Bongi Mbonambi, however, when joining head coach Jacques Nienaber for the team announcement press conference earlier this week, said that they have done everything they could to be prepared for the series despite all the disruptions.
“We are at a bit of a disadvantage and that is one of the realities of Covid-19, but we have been doing as much as we can on the training pitch and with reviews,” he said.
“There are a lot of talks about us being underdone, but I think it is just throwing petrol on the fire, let’s see how it goes on Saturday.”
While one could sense that Mbonambi would much prefer the Boks to do their talking on the field, Lions head coach Warren Gatland – who has been involved in a war-of-words with SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus in the build-up – did a little more than just focus on their own game.
“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle.
“That is one aspect we dented their ego in terms of they haven’t had that dominance (at the scrums) that they would have liked. I have been incredibly impressed with the way we have defended on this tour, and the way we have improved. We don’t think they will play a huge amount of rugby, we think they will play territory.
“While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know the Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We’ll do our best to get the win.”
Gatland may well feel that they have “dented” the Boks’ ego, but come tomorrow, all the talking will be done on the field. Again, the empty stadium sure isn’t ideal, but it just might help the Boks’ victory echo louder …