Burger's gouge is a gauge of South African disarray

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Springboks snatched a fantastic Test to take the series, but Morne Steyn's stunning last-minute penalty dragged his dismal side out of jail. They never deserved their win.

Once the tourists lost their props and their centres, the match turned. Two mistakes in the final six minutes by the substitute Ronan O'Gara cost the Lions the series. The Irishman missed Jaque Fourie as he smashed his way over for a try after 74 minutes. Then, in the last minute, O'Gara ran out of his 22, launched a high kick and tackled Fourie du Preez while he was in the air. It was a ghastly double blunder.

For most of the game, the Springboks were second best. One of the shoddiest first-half performances by any world champion side handed the Lions a life raft. For almost an hour, they seemed good enough to use it. From the first minute, when the South Africa flanker Schalk Burger attacked the eyes of the Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald, the skids were under the Springboks. Their rugby during the first 40 minutes was a joke.

They were all over the place, as wobbly as a blancmange. "A tough call on Schalk but you are not allowed to do that," was how the former Springbok No 10 Naas Botha called the incident on television. How one-eyed was that? Burger has now been cited and if he is found guilty he will surely be banned from at least the first half of the Tri-Nations. He deserves it.

Burger's offence has no place in the game. For a player at this level to stoop so low was unforgivable. What a way to celebrate your 50th cap. What was more, while Burger was in the sin-bin the Springboks were all over the place. They conceded 10 points but the psychological damage was the real cost of Burger's folly.

Even when he returned, booed and jeered by the Lions fans, the Boks could not get hold of the game. Their confidence was shot, that 50 minutes of complete ascendancy in Durban last week a distant memory.

You knew the Springboks were rattled as much by their off-the-ball antics as anything else. Bakkies Botha got involved more in the verbals and pushing and shoving than the game, John Smit complained constantly to the referee, Christophe Berdos, and there was indiscipline all over the field. No one seemed to be in charge.

Only when the Lions lost their props, causing a move to uncontested scrums, did the balance of the game shift. The Springboks began to win more ball, although they were still inferior at the breakdown, where Tom Croft and David Wallace were superb. So too was the English lock Simon Shaw, whose power was instrumental in several turnovers. He won the man of the match award. The Lions' tight-five were superb for an hour, their physicality immense.

So the series goes to the Springboks, as expected, and they must be odds-on to make it 3-0 next week in Johannesburg, especially with the Lions now hammered by injuries. Yet this was no classic display by South Africa. They lacked control, authority and much precision for an hour. It was all a far cry from the standards that are demanded of world champions.

Comments