Springbok legend Bryan Habana pens his fourth column during this British and Irish Lions tour, looking at South Africa’s second Test victory, the impact of Rassie Erasmus’ off-field antics, Lions changes, and more…
Habana’s reflections on second Test victory for the Springboks over the British and Irish Lions…
“In a week marred with the off-field happenings and a first half (or more like 64 minutes) that was pretty dour to be brutally honest, the Springboks second half performance was something to behold.
“Obviously there was a lot happening in the build-up to that Test match and you sort of felt that all of that was more to the fore in the game, particularly in the first stanza, than anything else unfortunately.
“Almost every refereeing decision was questioned or referred to the TMO on Saturday. The first half should have been 40 minutes, but it actually took 64 minutes – two minutes longer than Rassie Erasmus’ controversial video.
“Given everything that’s happened over the last 18 months, everything that’s happened over the last month and a half, and all the disruptions, the Springbok camp will be happy.
“I said it ahead of the series that I’d love it to go to a series decider, because the tour definitely needs it.
“And I think the tour needs a series decider much more than it needs all the off-field antics at the moment, because you get a little bit worried about where the game is going.”
Habana on Rassie Erasmus’ 62-minute video criticising referees, and its impact on the second Test officials…
“We chatted last week before the video was released, and I defended Erasmus coming out and highlighting a few things post the first Test, in comparison to Warren Gatland a week prior calling out the TMO.
“I thought Gatland had an impact on Marius Jonker’s decision making in the first Test match.
“Without a doubt, Rassie Erasmus’ 62-minute video had an impact on the officiators and how things went.
“I understand Rassie’s frustrations in terms of clarity and communication, but I don’t think it’s a good look on the game.
“And I think World Rugby could have nipped everything in the bud, if they put out a statement a few weeks prior. And by the time this article comes out, we might already have seen World Rugby take action against Rassie.
“We don’t want the game to be a stop-start affair, with each decision scrutinized or debated.
“The referees have an incredibly difficult job, and one of the great things about rugby is the respect we have, most importantly, for the officials.
“Erasmus’ 62-minute video, without question, had a massive impact on that first 60 minutes of rugby we saw.”
Habana on the confidence Saturday’s win will have given the South Africa camp…
“There would be huge confidence in the Springbok camp now, and kudos to Stephen Kitshoff who played his 50th Test.
“They will definitely go into this third Test match with the ascendency I feel.
“Everyone knows how the Springboks are going to play rugby, and from an opposition perspective, it’s if you can stop it.
“The Lions weren’t able to stop it in the first half of the first Test and definitely not in the second half of the second Test.
“From a Lions perspective, we’re also not certain about how they want to play rugby at the moment, and one now feels the weakened opposition they faced in the build-up to the Test Series didn’t help them in this regard.
“The Springboks are comfortable in a kicking battle, and are even more comfortable in an attritional forward combat.
“You feel SA will go into this extremely confident. I will be nervous though just because it is Test match rugby, and it is a series decider.
“I will though definitely be wearing my Springbok Budgy Smugglers again!!”
Habana on the Lions’ tactics in defeat…
“The Lions just didn’t get any reward from their kicking game. And if you look back a week, where the Boks improved hugely was with their set piece physicality, particularly in the second half when their famous Bomb Squad made their impact felt.
“It wasn’t just purely their improvements in terms of kick receipts and putting pressure on the opposition, but they didn’t give constant penalties away. In that second half of the first Test, there was a string of 7 or so penalties in a row.
“If you’re giving the opposition penalties, you’re giving them free yardage on the field, and you end up constantly trying to get out of your half. In so doing, you end up making more mistakes.
“The Lions just couldn’t get out of their own half. They were either making mistakes or giving silly penalties away, which was a role reversal from week one.”
Habana on the potential Lions changes for the series-deciding third Test…
“I think they went pretty well from a pack perspective in the first half. To go into the sheds 9-6 up, I wasn’t quite sure if the Springboks had the fitness to see them through.
“They’d lost 29-5 in the second halves combined of the SA ‘A’ game and first Test match, so you were wondering where the Springboks were going to find something.
“For the Lions, it is the end of a long season, it is the end of a long tour and they’ve been in a bubble, but where do you go to?
“Someone like Owen Farrell, structurally and tactically, could get a look in. Conor Murray was all over the field, but the incident with Cheslin Kolbe wasn’t ideal.
“From a pack perspective, maybe bring in Tadhg Beirne. Though I’m not quite sure for who.
“I don’t know. But I do know Warren Gatland is not scared to make big calls and big changes, like in 2013 when Brian O’Driscoll was omitted for the series decider.
“I would probably go with Farrell. He’s someone I would look to. He’s a natural born winner, his desire every time he gets on the field is to do everything in his ability to win and I think the Lions potentially need a little bit of his grunt.”
Habana on potential back-three changes for the Lions ahead of the third Test…
“To be honest, I’m extremely surprised Josh Adams didn’t make the original Test team.
“Duhan van der Merwe has been incredible through the course of the tour, and proven he is more than a bolter, while he also did a lot of good things in that first Test.
“The back-three was literally a role reversal between the Tests. In Test one, the South Africans weren’t great under the high ball or in chasing it. The Lions got really good blockers in place.
“It’s a difficult one. Do you back players who did well in Test one or were poor in the second?
“Liam Williams is also a class player who is proven at Test level, and has been exceptional in a Lions jersey. But I feel Stuart Hogg has done enough to stay in the team.
“Van der Merwe’s yellow card might go against him, and Anthony Watson showed, when he did get the ball in space, that he was at least able to make something happen.
“It’s incredibly difficult as a winger when you don’t get opportunities to really make an impact on the game.
“Would I make back-three changes? I don’t know. That’s why I’m not a coach.
“It’s a tough call to make in a third Test match that is do or die.”
Habana on injuries to Springboks pair Pieter-Steph du Toit and Faf de Klerk, and Duane Vermeulen’s return…
“I would definitely throw Duane Vermeulen straight back in. He’s one of those players who I would probably take 80 per cent fit into Test match rugby.
“The reason I say that is back in 2013, he broke a rib against Australia the week before and was then man of the match the following week against the All Blacks.
“He is just so good and his presence alone is worth having him there.
“If Pieter-Steph du Toit is out, which I think would be extremely sad because he has been the epitome of a Bok forward for years, I would bring Vermeulen straight in and then it’s a question of do you go with Kwagga Smith or Jasper Wiese and Siya Kolisi?
“I think you need a Smith in the side, but I also feel Franco Mostert did really well when he was moved to the flank. And then you’d have Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth together in the second row, which is pretty ominous.
“If Faf de Klerk is injured (and I am sure Jacques Nienaber will give Faf as much time to try and prove his fitness), Herschel Jantjies has been waiting in the wings, and what better platform to be able to show yourself than a crack against the Lions in a series decider. Cobus Reinach is a superb player to come off the bench.
“You then look to bring in someone like Rynard Elstad, who could cover lock and back-row from the bench.”
Habana on his embrace with Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi at full-time of second Test victory…
“I actually messaged Siya on Saturday morning, and though I haven’t been a captain of South Africa, I have been in positions in a Bok team where it has been pretty tough going.
“Listening to his interview for Sky Sports before the Test with Elma Smit, and knowing him personally, I honestly believe that he didn’t feel equally respected by officials.
“That post-match embrace was just to tell him how proud I am of him. And that he continues to inspire me and so many South Africans.
“To have handled all that burden, all that pressure, I thought he played really well in the first Test, and in the second Test he was incredible from a leadership perspective.
“That try-saving tackle on Robbie Henshaw was not only huge, but the epitome of what Siya means to this Springbok side.
“I told him he needs to enjoy the opportunity, because he really comes to the fore when he’s positive and singing and getting everyone up.
“I also wished him luck for what I think will be an absolutely incredible third Test.”
Habana’s prediction for the South Africa vs British and Irish Lions third Test series decider…
“I will go with a Springbok victory, at 27-15.
“If the Lions haven’t got their combinations right by the last week of the tour, can they get it right for the last Test?
“Ian McGeechan said on Sky Sports that the Wednesday before the third Test in 2009 was one of the best Lions trainings he had ever seen. But that was a side with nothing to lose.
“Where, this group of Lions do have everything to play for.
“Hopefully we will just talk about the rugby, and the rugby can be the winner.
“Rugby, off the field, hasn’t seemed to be the winner over the course of the last while, and hopefully the on-field performances, in this first ever series decider between the Boks and Lions in the professional era, will make it the spectacle that a series of this magnitude needs it to be.”