Friday 6 August 2021 10:00 am

Ollie Phillips: Lions series win would be heroic in the circumstances but momentum has swung behind South Africa before deciding Test

As the British and Irish Lions prepare for their series-deciding third Test, it feels like all momentum has swung behind South Africa. 

Fair play to the Springboks; they nailed their game plan in the second match last weekend. 

It was set-piece perfection allied to a moment of magic from Handre Pollard, whose cross-field kick set up Makazole Mapimpi for a try that put the hosts in charge.

The Boks also succeeded in slowing the game down at every turn, allowing their big men to get the breathers they needed.

That the first half took 62 minutes to complete shows that Rassie Erasmus’s rant about refereeing in the Lions’ first-Test win clearly worked.

It’s atrocious that World Rugby haven’t come down on South Africa boss Erasmus. They are effectively saying it’s fine for a coach to destroy a ref’s credibility.

That slowness, and the reluctance of either side to take any risks whatsoever, made for a dreadful spectacle that didn’t do much for rugby union’s image.

Lions team selection looks confused

Lions coach Warren Gatland has responded to defeat by making six changes to the XV and harking back to the first Test.

The return of Ali Price at scrum-half signals that the tourists want to play, but that doesn’t really tally with the selection of Bundee Aki at centre. 

It’s all a bit confusing, and that’s before you try to contemplate how Duhan van der Merwe is still in there.

Still, Josh Adams will help them play at pace. Liam Williams, meanwhile, should have been starting from the get-go.

The Lions need to win the battle up front, so picking Wyn Jones makes sense, but then Gatland has weakened his hand by leaving out Luke Cowan-Dickie.

It’s probably going too far to say Gatland looks desperate but it’s really not clear what he wants his team to do – unlike the Springboks. 

Missing duo can give Lions edge in decider

It will be an unbelievable achievement if the Lions do win the third Test and emulate the 1997 series victory in South Africa.

Given that this team was put together on the back of a fag packet eight weeks ago; they’re playing the world champions in their own back yard; half of them couldn’t even play in the Japan game; Alun Wyn Jones dislocated his shoulder but still lined up in the Test series; and all against a backdrop of Covid, it would be nothing short of heroic.

I just hope that if they do win on Saturday it is with a bit of style. They might have lost their last series with the Springboks in 2009 but that tour lives long in the memory for how it was played.

The Lions will need to be smart, keep the ball on the field and stop South Africa winning penalties. They gave up seven in the first Test but 19 in the second.

And all eyes will be on whether Williams and Wyn Jones can nullify the Springboks’ aerial and set-piece threat.

The hosts will be without Faf de Klerk and Pieter-Steph du Toit, though, and that could be massive. 

Cobus Reinbach, who comes in at No9, is good but has nowhere near as much niggle and nous as de Klerk.

Their game plan won’t change but it may not be executed quite as well, and I think the Lions can take advantage. I’m forecasting a famous 24-17 win.  

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development & behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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