South Africa made their mark in spiteful second Test after Rassie Erasmus laid his trap

The Springboks were worthy winners against the British & Irish Lions but their director of rugby’s online tirade meant the Test was more about the law book than the playbook

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So it was all an act of genius after all, and not the rantings of an unhinged conspiracy theorist. A Rassie Erasmus masterstroke, coolly executed, and prompting the desired effect for a 27-9 win.

Make no mistake about it: South Africa were comprehensively better than the British & Irish Lions in the second Test. It was not even close, either on the scoreboard or in the run of play.

The Springboks had taken one Test to shake off the rust. And the Lions? Well, if their back three could catch, maybe they might have made a game of it.

Ahead of the deciding third Test, the tourists have as many questions to answer as Nic Berry, the harrowed referee, found coming his way after the portentous first match.

But all that apart, did Erasmus’ unprecedented social media campaign of last week have an effect? Unquestionably so.

The first half finished 64 minutes after it had kicked off. Which is kind of understandable when every incident had to be pored over in the sort of granular detail which Erasmus’s midweek excoriation demanded.

In fact, the first half was so long, it was even longer than the video the Springboks’ director of rugby had posted relating to all the alleged officiating deficiencies.

From the very first play of the game, it was suffocating. Mako Vunipola – one of many who had been named and shamed by Erasmus, or Jaco Johan, or whoever – was penalised for not rolling away.

It was an identical incident to those specified in the Erasmus video. Vunipola trotted away with a wry grin that said: Ah, so this is how it’s going to be.

A minute later the tinderbox was lit when Alun Wyn Jones, the Lions captain, waded in to sort out a perceived injustice himself, and ended up at daggers drawn with Eben Etzebeth, his gigantic opposite number in the Boks second row.

From that point on, it was, as Sam Warburton said on commentary, “an Alpha off”. The Lions were up to it, too, with their big men repelling the giants running at them.

Rarely ever have the Boks been beaten back from the gain line with such ferocity as the tourists managed during the first quarter of the game.

But it was frenetic. There was plenty of fire in bellies. Far less ice in minds.

British & Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones, left is grappled by South Africa's Eben Etzebeth.

Duhan van der Merwe was reckless twice. First with a late tackle which led to Pieter-Steph du Toit’s involvement in the game being curtailed. Then with a rash fly-hack/kick/trip on Cheslin Kolbe, for which he saw yellow.

Moments later, they were sat together in the naughty corner, like two boys sent to the headmaster for fighting, after Kolbe was also sin binned.

Like Van der Merwe, Kolbe might have been lucky the punishment was not more severe for an incident which saw Conor Murray come to earth headfirst.

Whose fault was all the indiscipline? Clearly, the players had a part in it.

Lions winger Duhan van der Merwe wins ball from Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa.

But the atmosphere the game was being played in was surely created by the spiteful lead in.

At half time, Bryan Habana bemoaned the lack of anything approaching fluency. He was right. The game had been all about who knew the law book better than the playbook.

Given how the second half panned out, it is unlikely there will be quite such an online campaign coming back the other way in the lead up to Saturday’s finale.

Not solely because, as the Lions have pointed out, the tactics Erasmus employed were an attack on the integrity of the game. But because they have more things to worry about themselves.

Like how to cope with the pinpoint kicking game of Handre Pollard and Faf du Klerk, which defined the 21-0 second half landslide in the home side’s favour.

Maybe there will be another compilation coming from Erasmus. Or maybe he will consider it job done already.

Updated: August 01, 2021, 5:55 AM