It was scrappy and bad tempered at times. It was difficult to watch, even. But two second-half tries earned South Africa a 27-9 win in the Second Test against the British & Irish Lions to send the series to a thrilling decider next Saturday in Cape Town.
After the controversy of the last few days, with Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus’ 62-minute video broadside at the refereeing in the First Test having shocked many, perhaps there were always likely to be flashpoints. And tempers flared during a bitty, stop-start first half which, ironically, ended up lasting 62 minutes such was the multitude of incidents referee Ben O’Keeffe had to deal with.
The Lions led 9-6 at half-time after Dan Biggar kicked three penalties to Handre Pollard’s two from three attempts, but that was only half the story. After Alun Wyn Jones and Eben Etzebeth had a coming-together early on, the Lions were soon reduced to 14 players when Duhan van der Merwe’s petulant trip on Cheslin Kolbe led to him seeing yellow.
However, Kolbe was soon in the sin bin himself after he took out Conor Murray in the air, sparking an extended huddle of bodies as the two sides came together. Following another lengthy delay while O’Keeffe was shown footage by the TMO, Kolbe was sent from the field for 10 minutes but there was no further action.
With both sides restored to 15, the second half started with South Africa taking a lead they would never lose, Makazole Mapimpi stretching over for his 15th try in 16 Springbok appearances after taking Pollard’s chip through.
Biggar then missed the chance to give the Lions a 12-11 lead, and by the three-quarter mark the Springboks had a two-score advantage thanks to a Lukhanyo Am try confirmed by the TMO and Pollard’s conversion.
As time began to ran out for the tourists, silly infringements started to cost them dearly, with Pollard kicking three more penalties as the Lions became more leggy in the closing stages.
The 27-9 result levels the series, while the performance of referee O’Keeffe and his team under an intense spotlight were worthy of significant praise. With one game to go and all to play for, the increasingly fraught relationship between the two camps promises to make the Third Test a nail-biter.