Springboks will rise to the challenge of third Lions Test, says Mzwandile Stick

A WORD of warning to anyone planning to watch this afternoon’s third Test between the Springboks and the Lions: the home side are set to continue with the soporific kicking tactics that were widely criticised last week.

New Zealand coach Ian Foster was among those to disparage the South Africans’ game plan in the second Test, calling the match a two-hour slugfest that sent him to sleep. But yesterday Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick made no apologies for his team’s reliance on high kicks in a game which they won 27-9 to level the series ahead of today’s decider.

“It’s not a secret – the aerial contest is going to be massive,” he said. “It’s funny when some coaches now are all of a sudden saying that the Springboks are playing boring rugby because we’re kicking. 

“Unfortunately kicking is part of the game – unless maybe there’s new rules that we are not allowed to kick. Maybe try something else.

“But once again we are looking forward to the aerial contest. It’s going to be massive.”

At last week’s eve-of-match press conference, Stick launched into an impassioned defence of Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and his hour-long video criticising referee Nic Berry for a host of supposed errors in the first Test. Yesterday, too, he was in righteous-indignation mode, implausibly claiming that his team had had nothing to do with slowing the second Test down to a snail’s pace.

“The person in charge of the whistle is the ref,” he insisted. So far so uncontentious. “When the TMO calls and the refs need more time to make decisions according to what they see on the screen, that’s got nothing to do with us.

“When the ball is in play all of our players make sure they give of their best. I don’t recall one of our players doing anything intentional to slow the play down.

“The TMO is part of the game now also, so if he needs two minutes to make a decision, unfortunately that’s not in our control. The best thing we can do as a Springbok team is control the ball in play, control the tempo. 

“If they want to lift the tempo up, that is their plan. If we want to slow the ball down and make it boring, we’ll do that. But from our side we don’t go intentionally into a game saying we want to slow things down. 

“And if the British & Irish Lions want to play touch rugby, that will be nice for us. They’re more than welcome to do so. 

“We’re not going to decide what they must do, and also they’re not going to tell us how to play the game. We’ll just play according to our strengths.”

Sitting next to Stick in the press conference, South Africa’s captain Siya Kolisi also suggested that there would be no deviation from a game plan that was a conspicuous success last week after the Lions had come out on top in the aerial battle in the first Test, which they won 27-22. 

“Nothing changes,” the back-row forward said. “Our game plan doesn’t change. We focus on what we do. Everybody knows how we play and I don’t think that’s going to change at all. We’re going to play the same way as we did last week.

“That’s who we are. We can’t run away from that. We’re South Africans. It works for us. We can’t change who we are.” 

The Springboks have had to change their team because of injuries to Faf de Klerk and Pieter-Steph du Toit, while the Lions have opted to alter their back division in search of greater physicality. The home side got the better of the breakdown battle last week, but Stick expects the tourists’ changes to present his team with some problems today.

HeraldScotland:

“A guy like Bundee Aki and his partnership with Robbie Henshaw – we know those gentlemen and they are very physical,” he said of the Lions’ Irish midfield. “And Liam Williams and Josh Adams have been playing together for a while now, so we know they are trying to select their best combinations.

“We know Bundee Aki is tough to play against. It’s something we’ve analysed and mentioned to our players. Liam Williams is very tough, very physical – he doesn’t go away. It’s going to be tough for us and we’re looking forward to the challenge.” 

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