CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa delivered the promised physical fightback and emphatically beat the British and Irish Lions 27-9 on Saturday to send their charged series to a third test decider next weekend.
The Lions, who edged the first test and came to the second with momentum, had a shot at clinching their first series in the republic in 24 years but surprisingly lost control after halftime.
The Lions’ fitness has seen them finish stronger on tour but after the Springboks scored the first of their two stylish tries, their confidence soared and they won the second half 21-0. The Lions turned desperate, instead, and, in chasing the game, made errors the Springboks were able to exploit.
Lukhanyo Am scored the second try, and Handre Pollard nailed his last four goalkicks to finish with a 17-point haul.
The teams return again to an empty Cape Town Stadium next Saturday with the world champion Springboks favored to take the series after losing the first test 22-17.
The buildup was overshadowed by concerted South African attacks on the first test refereeing, but the hosts could have little to quibble about new ref Ben O’Keeffe. He warned both sides as early as the third minute after the first scuffle, and showed he meant it with yellow cards to each team.
An incident-packed first half in which neither team would concede an inch was so drawn out that in real time it went on for 64 minutes, two minutes longer than South African official Rassie Erasmus’ controversial video diatribe midweek.
The stop-start half helped the Springboks stay relatively fresh, as they gained more significant match fitness denied them by the pandemic.
It allowed them to start the new half powerfully. A scrum penalty and a driving lineout were followed by a Pollard crosskick caught by Makazole Mapimpi ahead of opposite wing Anthony Watson. He ducked inside Stuart Hogg and went over to retake the lead at 11-9 for the first time in half an hour.
Dan Biggar could have regained it for the Lions but his fourth penalty attempt hit the post.
The next big move was South Africa’s, when mobile No. 8 Jasper Wiese was replaced by lock Jood de Lager. With more set-pieces than open play, the extra lineout option gave the Springboks control of the sideline.
An hour in, the Springboks mauled a lineout, and Faf de Klerk’s grubber behind the posts was dived on by Am for a converted try and comforting 18-9 lead. Pollard’s third, fourth and fifth penalties gave the scoreline a deserved margin.
But the first half was cagey as the teams conceded few penalties in kicking range. Biggar kicked his three penalty shots while Pollard made two of his three.
South Africa’s world player of 2019, flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, walked off after the first quarter after apparently injuring his shoulder in a late tackle by Duhan van der Merwe. The South African-born wing’s over-exuberance got him in trouble moments later with a trip of opposite Cheslin Kolbe.
But Kolbe joined him in the sin-bin two minutes later for taking out Conor Murray in the air, a yellow card that could have been indisputably red.
Without Du Toit, South Africa lost two consecutive lineouts. That encouraged the Lions to skip a kickable penalty for a corner lineout that was cleaned up by Maro Itoje for an attacking scrum.
Murray was flattened by de Klerk but after receiving medical attention and missing a few rucks, Murray got up in the same play to chip over the defense. Robbie Henshaw caught it beside the posts but inspirational Boks captain Siya Kolisi — with a team-leading 14 tackles — got his arm under the ball to prevent a try.
After claiming he wasn’t respected by the ref last weekend, Kolisi and the Springboks got plenty on Saturday and the series remains alive.