Déjà vu as Morne Steyn kicks penalty to give Springboks victory over British and Irish Lions
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CAPE TOWN – Morne Steyn could not ever have imagined that he would become a Springbok hero in two consecutive series against the British and Irish Lions, but that is exactly what happened at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night as the Bulls flyhalf slotted a late penalty to clinch a 19-16 triumph to close out a 2-1 series victory.
It was a dramatic finale to a hard-fought final Test, with the Lions being on top for most of the decider.
But up stepped 37-year-old Steyn – just like he did in 2009 at Loftus Versfeld – to line up a match-winning penalty. This time it wasn’t from over 50 metres, but well inside the Lions half, and there was just over a minute left on the clock.4
Steyn, though, is renowned for his ice-cool temperament under pressure, and like he did 12 years ago in Pretoria, he booted the ball through the uprights to put the South Africans 19-16 ahead with the last kickoff to come.
The drama wasn’t over as the Lions, through the industrious Maro Itoje, won the ball back from the restart, but after French referee Mathieu Raynal awarded the visitors a scrum inside the Bok half, the Lions collapsed the scrum and conceded a penalty that finally extinguished their chances of victory.
The win crowned a stunning comeback from Siya Kolisi and his team, after they trailed 10-6 at halftime and didn’t look like getting the better of Alun Wyn Jones’ outfit.
In the first half, the Lions soon realised that they were getting good purchase out of kicking penalties into the corners, as they were able to win their own lineouts comfortably, and setting their mauls well.
And that approach paid off big-time at the end of the first quarter, when another penalty was booted into touch, and hooker Ken Owens forced his way over at close quarters from another menacing Lions drive, with the South Africans unable to put a stop to the marauding red blanket in front of them.
That put the visitors 10-3 up, and it looked like a long road back for Kolisi and his teammates.
The home side tried to take on the Lions at their own game by also opting for touch a few times instead of going for the three-pointers in the second quarter, but it didn’t end up in any points as their opponents were able to stop their mauls in its tracks.
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Cheslin Kolbe reacts to being voted man of the match in the #CastleLionsSeries decider.
Finn Russell, who came on early for the injured Dan Biggar, added a refreshing creative touch to the Lions attack, varying the play smartly with short passes to hard-running forwards, and floated balls to his strike-runners out wide, which made it seem as if the Boks were a player short in defence every time the visitors moved the ball around.
One such ball saw left wing Duhan van der Merwe beating a few Boks with some deft footwork and good strength, and it was a reminder to the South Africans of the threat that the Scotland No 11 posed.
The Boks were scrambling in defence towards the end of the first half as the Lions revelled with the momentum they were generating on attack, and it was only last-gasp efforts by Kolisi and Damian de Allende that saved the day on two occasions, while a big shove from Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe also earned a scrum penalty.
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It's almost a carbon copy of his World Cup final try as Cheslin Kolbe dances his way to the tryline! Springboks take the lead 🇿🇦🦁
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Handre Pollard landed a second penalty to reduce the deficit to 10-6, and soon afterwards, lock Eben Etzebeth stole a crucial Lions throw on the Bok five-metre line just before the break to ensure the scoreboard stayed as is at halftime.
The South Africans kept plugging away and attacked the Lions around the fringes, and got some reward with a couple of penalties.
But Pollard uncharacteristically missed two crucial shots at goal in the second half, and the score remained at 10-6.
Then, enter Cheslin Kolbe. The Bok No 14 had to chase kicks for most of the night, but his big moment arrived just before the hour mark.
A box-kick was contested by No 8 Jasper Wiese, who was unable to hold on, but the ball squirted out to Lukhanyo Am, who found a gap and fed Willie le Roux, who passed to Kolbe out wide.
The Toulouse star stepped past Lions fullback Liam Williams with some devastating footwork, and had the strength to brush off hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie for a sensational finish to put the Boks in front at 11-10, with Pollard converting for a 13-10 lead.
Raynal did check a possible Wiese knock-on with TMO Marius Jonker, but watched the replay on the big screen himself and said there wasn’t clear evidence that the ball had gone forward.
Russell and Steyn exchanged penalties to take the score to 16-16 with five minutes to go, and the stage was set for someone to take charge and produce a series-winning moment.
That fell into Steyn’s lap, and he stroked the ball through the uprights…
Springboks 19 – Try: Cheslin Kolbe. Conversion: Handre Pollard (1). Penalties: Pollard (2), Morné Steyn (2).
Lions 16 – Try: Ken Owens. Conversion: Finn Russell (1). Penalties: Russell (3).