Ian McGeechan and the rest of the British and Irish Lions management will seek urgent clarification from the refereeing authorities ahead of next weekend's second Test against South Africa in Pretoria after seeing their front row – particularly the tight-head prop Phil Vickery – penalised into oblivion here yesterday.
Vickery was singled out by the New Zealand official Bryce Lawrence at a number of scrums in the first half, and partly as a consequence, the Springboks built up a big interval lead that underpinned their eventual victory.
"We'll send a report to Paddy O'Brien [another New Zealander, who runs the International Rugby Board's refereeing department] and if anything comes of that, it will be discussed with the officials for the Pretoria game at a meeting on Friday," said McGeechan, the head coach of the touring party, who felt forced to substitute Vickery, his most experienced forward, four minutes after the break. "We need an explanation because it's very important to us going forward to this match. The penalty count in the first half, and early in the second, killed us."
Paul O'Connell, the defeated captain, was much sharper in voicing his dissatisfaction with some of Lawrence's calls at the set-piece. "He said Phil was constantly going in [on the Springbok hooker], but while it was hard for me to see from the second row, I didn't think that was so," said the Irish lock. "That Phil should have been judged to have made the same mistake at four or five scrums in a row is beyond me. I can understand a guy giving away one or two penalties and the ref making a 'read' on him, but out there, he seemed to be refereeing just us every time."
McGeechan went out of his way to fasten on to the positive aspects of the Lions' performance, especially the two-try comeback late in the game that ate into the South Africans' 26-7 advantage and left the tourists within a converted try of victory. "We'd be more concerned if the players had turned in a poor performance, but they didn't," the coach insisted. "In particular, I thought Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts demonstrated just what a dangerous centre pairing they have become."
The Springbok camp were mightily relieved at crawling their way to the finish post. Peter de Villiers, their head coach, admitted he "might have tried too much too soon" in introducing fresh legs off the bench – fresh legs that were nowhere near as effective as the tiring ones belonging to those players who had started the match and taken complete control early on.
For John Smit, the Springbok captain and one of the try-scorers, the forthcoming game at Loftus Versfeld Stadium will be one of the climactic contests of a long and successful career. "Both teams will be really fighting now: one to finish, one to survive," said the versatile front-row forward, who had been playing in front of his home crowd. "The pressure up there in Pretoria will be twice as big next weekend."
Smit, who led the Boks to the world title in 2007, was not at all impressed by his side's second-half effort. "We let our concentration lapse, we took our foot off the gas, our kicking game went down the toilet," he complained. But he paid tribute to his fellow prop, Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira, who claimed the man-of-the-match award for his undoing of Vickery. "He was outstanding," the captain said. "He flew his fiancée into town for this game. I think we'll have to keep her around for a bit."