Mark Reason: Third test thriller between All Blacks and Lions a game played in heaven

Both teams peered into the void as the ferocity of the final test match between the All Blacks and the Lions shook the ground and our hearts. And yet still there were moments of skill to dazzle this dark corner of New Zealand.

Dark, because of all the black shirts in the stand. Dark, because of the fears that so many fans carried into this match. And so often games like this just cannot live up to the absurdity of the expectation. But this match – a 15-15 draw that saw the series shared 1-1 – will stand as one of the great tests in the history of the Lions in New Zealand.

NIGEL MARPLE/REUTERS
Maro Itoje was again outstanding in a brutal and brilliant test match.

Of course there were bundles of mistakes. It is almost impossible not to throw the odd bad pass when Brodie Retallick or Maro Itoje is intent on crushing your skeleton until it squeaks. Both locks were colossal for their respective sides and are going to have many a great battle down the years.

And to begin with the intensity of the collisions was all too much and the jitters jumped between the stands and the pitch. Beauden Barrett hooked his first kick at goal horribly and the bank of red behind the posts stood and cheered. Julian Savea dropped a pass that he could have caught as a 3-year-old.

Were they bothered? Well, probably, but they just got on with it and then played some footy from another world. Savea ran over the top of Liam Williams, and your mind went back to Jonah Lomu putting Mike Catt through the tumble dryer all those years ago in a World Cup semi in South Africa.

Beauden Barrett crucially intercepted Owen Farrell when the Lions were pressing for the early score. Farrell has not enhanced his reputation and his passing off his left hand was dreadful. He cost the Lions two possible tries with bad passes to his left. Big players play the big moments.

But the nerves just added to the thrill of it all. The All Blacks could have put the game away in the first half when their scrum monstered the Lions off the ball. Number eight pick up, five metres to go, accuracy was all that was needed. But Aaron Smith’s pass did not understand the line that Beauden Barrett was taking and the chance was fumbled.

At the start of the second half the All Blacks again caught a wind shift and had a chance to sail away. It was a joy to see them finally play some rugby and they had a lot of success with changes of direction and deeper runners. They also held the Lions defence with some early cross kicks.

So when Jordie Barrett spun towards the outside he had Savea in the clear and the series in his hands. But the Lions just squeezed him too hard and the 20-year-old could not keep his pass from going forwards. Sit down, everyone, it’s not a try but there’s so much more to come.

More to come from this game and more to come from young Jordie. In the first half he finished one try on the outside when Ngani Laumape made a half break and Anton Lienert-Brown showed the Lions how to pass. And he set up another when he used his height to tap down for Laumape to score.

New Zealand had their moments, and so many of them were beautiful, but the All Blacks can also been an ugly team at times when threatened. We saw that last week with SBW and we saw it again when Jerome Kaino hit Alun Wyn Davies in the jaw with a straight arm. The people in front of me spat out juices of abuse, but the officials were entirely correct to issue a yellow card.

And so the Lions came back into the game and there were so many impossible outcomes to decide. The man of the series? For me a dead heat between Conor Murray and Brodie Retallick. The next All Blacks coach? Warren Gatland won’t get the job, but he can be proud of how his teams have played on this tour.

But those things are for another day perhaps. This was a night when sport put a magnifying glass on the human spirit and showed just how magnificent it can be.

– Stuff

All Blacks and Lions end third test – and 2017 series – in a draw

We came to celebrate, but it ended in stalemate. Would you believe it? In the most controversial of circumstances, the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions could not be separated in a dramatic final, deciding test at Eden Park.

At the end of a pulsating encounter referee Romain Poite had the major say we all feared he might, but not in the manner we suspected.

After reviewing a decision to award a late, kickable penalty to the All Blacks with less than two minutes on the clock, he downgraded it to just a scrum for accidental offside, and the Lions were able to escape with a 15-15 draw that left this brilliant series, for the first time in history, tied.

On a night when these two fine sides could not be separated, the series also ends that way. In many ways, given the epic nature of the final encounter, it is a result that cannot be disputed.

Yet it will be. How could Poite change his decision when the video replay clearly showed replacement hooker Ken Owens had been in front of Liam Williams when he spilled the ball forward from the kickoff? But he did.

It was as if he decided he did not want this match to end on that note, after Lions superboot Owen Farrell had drilled his second 48-metre penalty to level the scores at 15-15 just moments earlier.

The All Blacks had a sniff in the final seconds, and rookie sensation Jordie Barrett went close in the right corner, but the Lions somehow held on.

What a third, and final, deciding test we had at this fortress of a ground for the All Blacks where they still haven’t lost since 1994 (though that 38-test win streak is now over). It was epic. It was tense. It was all things that rugby at this level should be. The sellout crowd of just shy of 50,000, forming a sea of red and black, were split seemingly equally in their vociferous support.

The Lions did not shrink beneath the glare of the big moment either. They could not manage a try. But they kicked their goals (five from five) and were good enough to deny the All Blacks the victory they worked so hard for.

So, Kieran Read’s 100th test ends not in the victory he deserved. Nor the 50th, and last, for Charlie Faumuina and Aaron Cruden.

And surprise starters Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape are denied the result their outstanding performances probably deserved.

The first 40 was all about tempo for the All Blacks, who did everything they could at pace, and with withering intent. Frustrated at their lack of ambition last week in Wellington, they weren’t going to die wondering in this deciding matchup.

So they went quickly at lineout time, from the ruck, and on any other occasion they could, and had the Lions in back-pedal mode through much of the opening half. The visitors had a couple of sniffs, but it was the New Zealanders who created the, er, lion’s share of the chances, and took a deserved 12-6 lead into the sheds with the only two tries of the half.

They were both sublime examples of how good these All Blacks are when they are able to play their game of pace, skill and withering execution.

That they both went to rookie starting debutants whom Hansen had taken (supposedly) such a risk in selecting really said it all about both the coach’s smarts and the natural ability he has at his disposal.

In fact, you couldn’t keep second five-eighths Laumape and fullback Jordie Barrett out of this test. They might not be rich in experience, but they are in talent and self-belief. Just a couple of minutes after a Beauden Barrett intercept just failed to put Laumape clear away, the Barrett-Laumape combination struck with magical efficacy. Under advantage, Beauden Barrett’s crosskick looked just a little over-cooked, but his 20-year-old brother soared high to tap the ball infield to Laumape who was across for the opening try, and a 7-0 lead.

Then four minutes from the break, with the Lions having eked the deficit back to just a point, the New Zealanders struck again with another sublimely executed attack. Brodie Retallick started it with the charge from the middle of the lineout, then Laumape rolled out a fabulous offload in the tackle to Anton Lienert-Brown whose pinpoint wide pass gave Jordie Barrett all the space he needed for the easiest of five-pointers.

The All Blacks could have had more, but crucial handling lapses at key moments denied them the chance to build a buffer.

But the Lions weren’t going anywhere after halftime. First Elliot Daly banged over a 54-metre penalty, then they went a man up for 10 minutes when Jerome Kaino was yellow carded for a forearm to the head of Alun Wyn Jones on the carry.

To the All Blacks’ credit they have some form playing with 14, and leaked only a 48m penalty to Own Farrell to level the scores at 12-12, which was right when Kaino returned to restore parity.

From there it was a tightrope walk to the finish. A penalty more apiece, and the night ended with neither team able to truly celebrate. But perhaps it was a night when rugby should, for two fine teams had played themselves into the ground, and simply could not be separated.

All Blacks 15 (Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett tries; Beauden Barrett pen, con), British & Irish Lions 15 (Owen Farrell 4 pens; Elliot Daly pen). Ht: 12-6.

– Stuff

Super Rugby Preview -Sharks in must win game against the Lions on Saturday

We are 20 years into Super Rugby, and there have been detractors that have said the competition has run its course, but how can you give a death sentence to a competition that after just one round has a premier team in the Sharks fighting for their lives?

For those who think this a melodramatic statement, consider the following: it is a given that teams hoping for a shot at the title first and foremost have to win their home games. The Sharks have lost their first home game, a fixture every rugby pundit in the Southern Hemisphere, outside of The Volksblad newspaper in Bloemfontein, said they would win.

And tomorrow they host a Lions team that for a few years now under the ultimate rugby rabble rouser, Johan Ackermann, a living legend that was still bossing the Bok scrum at the age of 37, have been threatening to restore the red and white to the glory days of the ‘90s when, funnily enough, they were the chief rivals to the Sharks.

The Lions lost last week to the Hurricanes in a match they totally dominated in Johannesburg, but they could not put the ball between the uprights while the bemused Wellingtonians scored tries on rare forays into the Lions half, and won a game they had no right to.

So the Lions are miffed. So too are the Sharks, whose game against the Cheetahs was glaringly similar to the Lions’ game.

So we have two annoyed teams determined to right the wrongs of last weekend. The difference is that there is way more pressure on the Sharks, the home team.

Let’s look at it like this. The Sharks have already broken the cardinal rule of losing at home. And if they lose at home to the Lions, what chance have they got of winning their next three fixtures – away to the Bulls at Loftus, then the Stormers in Cape Town, followed by the a return joust with the Cheetahs in Bloem?.

We are saying that if the Sharks lose tomorrow, they could well end up 0-5 down after five weeks of the competition, stone last, and fighting a rearguard battle for the rest of the tournament.

So is this a must-win game for the Sharks? You bet your life it is, because a second successive home defeat will rob them of confidence and momentum going into three away derbies against South African teams.

The stakes could not be higher for the Sharks. Lose and face the possibility of going five-zip down or win, enhance belief in the game plan, and stand a chance of winning some of those three away games before a homecoming match against the Chiefs, the recent two-time champions who will hardly be push-overs, the home ground advantage of Kings Park notwithstanding.

Gary Gold, the Director of Coaching who is only into his second week in charge after the pre-season had been under the tutelage of Brendan Venter, has had to make several injury-enforced changes to his team. Lock Mouritz Botha is out with an eye injury and is replaced by the exiting Pumas lock Giant Mtyanda. He is an exceptional talent and is indeed a beast, speaking of which, Tendai Mtawarira is sidelined with a calf injury, and that is okay given the excellent form Dale Chadwick showed when he came on as substitute at loosehead prop, and is rewarded with a start in the position.

On the right wing, there is a welcome return for veteran Odwa Ndungane because of an injury to S’Bura Sithole. The loss of the latter is a blow, and when he is fit it is hoped that his dynamicism will find its way back into the midfield, where he can be a potent threat at outside centre.

At hooker, captain Bismarck du Plessis is restored after missing the opening match with a shoulder complaint. The TV cameras that trained on him last week showed a man in patent torment.

“You saw a Sharks man suffering serious disappointment,” Du Plessis said. “I just knew that we were a much better side than that. We let ourselves down in a lot of areas of the field, especially when it came to exiting out of our own half. We had the right idea of how we want to play, but were not doing it in the right areas of the field.”

Du Plessis will be on pitch tomorrow night to direct affairs. Sharks fans will be desperate for him to expertly conduct the home orchestra. Because if he gets it wrong, and the Sharks lose two home games in a row, they almost certainly will go five games down, and it will be a forlorn battle from then on.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (capt), 1 Dale Chadwick.

Subs: Kyle Cooper, Thomas du Toit, Matt Stevens, Marco Wentzel, Jean Deysel, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga, André Esterhuizen.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (capt), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1. Jacques van Rooyen.

Subs: Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe, Julian Redelinghuys, JP du Preez, Ruaan Lerm, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Harold Vorster.

by Mike Greenaway

The Sharks have their entire Super Rugby campaign riding on the match

When you take a close look at Saturday’s Super Rugby clash between the Lions and the Sharks at Ellis Park, there is a decidedly incestuous link between the line-ups, from the very top at coaching level right down to the substitutes, but when it comes to kick off you can be assured there will be no brotherly love.

Opposition coaches John Plumtree and John Mitchell famously hail from the little town of Hawera in Taranaki where they were peers at school, and to celebrate this quirk of them both having grown up out of the sticks to be international coaches, they privately have the Hawera Cup that they contest whenever they come face to face (whether it was when Plumtree was coaching Wellington and Mitchell Waikato, or in the UK when they coached opposing clubs, or in the Super 12 games between the Sharks and the Western Force and now in South Africa when it is the Lions v the Sharks.

The Sharks, of course, have controversially courted former Lions in Louis Ludik, Willem Alberts and Gerhard Mostert, and Charl McLeod was also a Lion once upon a time; while the Sharks off-loaded Waylon Murray, Rory Kockott, Butch James (via English club Bath) Pat Cilliers, Michael Rhodes and Warren Whiteley; not to mention the sore point of Lionel Mapoe, who after a vicious court battle between Durban and Bloemfontein showed the Sharks a toffee and went to Johannesburg.

So everybody knows everybody, so to speak, but while the beers are on tomorrow afternoon, these teams will get stuck into each other for reasons rising above all these players having deserted – or been let loose – by their respective unions

The Sharks have their entire Super Rugby campaign riding on the match – they have to win to maintain control of their challenge for a place in the quarter-finals – while for the devil-may-care Lions, it is their last hurrah. They have a bye in next week’s last round, so this will be them signing off, and after so much bitter-sweet drama, they want to end it all in style, as much for themselves as for their long-suffering fans, by winning at least one match at home. The Lions’ three wins have all been away from Ellis Park.

Plumtree is wary of the Lions as much because he knows the ultra-competitive Mitchell off-by-heart as he is impressed by their recent form which saw them win two matches overseas.

“It helped them to escape on tour from their critics (they were last on the log at the time) and they got to bond together,” Plumtree said. “Then Butch James joined them for their first tour game and he has helped then with their rhythm on attack. Elton Jantjies and Butch have been a good mix because they are both good passers of the ball.”

Plumtree said the Lions had found form once they had settled on their best 15 and stuck with it.

The Lions’ pack on the surface has almost no potential Springbok candidates for the World Cup yet they are playing up a storm, proving that it is not “names” but collective endeavour that counts.

Plumtree agrees: “(flank) Derek Minnie has been outstanding and Wikus van Heerden (at lock) has been amazing with his industry, while Josh Strauss is a big threat with his ball-carrying ability. Their front row has settled down, and their lineout has now gained consistency, so their pack has found form. And with Butch giving them stability at the back, they are a side that can beat anybody.”

The coach has chosen to rest weary Bismarck du Plessis (he is on the bench) which allows John Smit a start at hooker while Beast Mtawarira comes in for Smit at loosehead prop.

Alberts failed a fitness yesterday and with Jean Deysel still suspended, the Sharks have a relatively lightweight but very mobile loose trio in Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes

Meanwhile, Jantjies has been demoted to the bench for breaching team protocol while on tour.

“Elton has to face the consequences of breaking team protocol,” Mitchell told The Star. “The leadership group made the decision … it’s got to do with punctuality, he missed an appointment.”
Mitchell will decide today whether he’ll start with Cobus Grobbelaar (family bereavement) and Franco van der Merwe (eye injury), while in other news Michael Bondesio returns to the bench following news that Rory Kockott will continue his career in France.

Mitchell said that with Bondiso being the future, he might as well give him a crack ahead of the departing Kockott.

Lions: Jaco Taute, Dylan des Fountain, Doppies la Grange (capt), Alwyn Hollenbach, Deon van Rensburg, Butch James, Jano Vermaak, Josh Strauss, Cobus Grobbelaar/Jaco Kriel, Derick Minnie, Franco van der Merwe/David de Villiers, Wikus van Heerden, Pat Cilliers, Bandise Maku, JC Janse van Rensburg.

Substitutes: Edgar Marutlulle, Jacobie Adriaanse, David de Villiers/David Bulbring, Warren Whiteley, Michael Bondesio, Elton Jantjies, Michael Killian

Sharks: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Stefan Terblanche, Meyer Bosman, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel, Jacques Botes, Gerhard Mostert, Steven Sykes, Eugene van Staden, John Smit (capt), Tendai Mtawarira.

Substitutes: Bismarck du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst, Alistair Hargreaves, Marcell Coetzee, Frederic Michalak, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Adrian Jacobs

by Mike Greenaway

DHL Stormers injury update – Peter Grant withdrawn

DHL Stormers injury update – Peter Grant withdrawn

DHL Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant has been withdrawn from the squad to take on the MTN Lions in Johannesburg this weekend. Grant took a blow to the knee in practice on Tuesday and has not recovered sufficiently. Gary Van Aswegen will wear the 10 jersey, whilst Lionel Cronje gets a call up, from the DHL WP Vodacom Cup team, to the bench as cover. The DHL Stormers have a bye after this week’s game and Grant is expected to recover fully for the following match vs. the Sharks on 30 April at DHL Newlands.

Cronje’s call up from the DHL WP Vodacom Cup team has necessitated the following changes to the DHL WP 22 announced to take on the Leopards in Potchefstroom on Saturday. In positional changes Marcel Brache moves from centre to fullback, with Berton Klaasen moving up from the bench to inside centre and Tim Whitehead shifting to outside centre. Michael Van Der Spuy will wear 22 as utility back cover.

Bulls and the Boks and the world cup

Springbok rugby fans would have watched last week’s corralling of the Bulls by the rampant Crusaders with a growing sense of foreboding.

The men from Pretoria barely pointed a horn in anger at the Kiwis, despite frustrated captain Victor Matfield exhorting them to at least attempt a stampede. Instead they were reduced to a bunch of bovine beasts by a Crusaders team that read their every attempted move and countered it with ease, while when the New Zealanders had the ball, the Bulls often tackled like milkmaids, nevermind cows.

Why should those outside of Pretoria care? Well, because that encounter could well be a microcosm of what is to come in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in six months time, when the Bulls will contribute much of the Springbok starting line-up, while the Crusaders are masquerading as the All Blacks give or take four or five positions – and they are still to get Riche McCaw back from injury.

The projection of how the RWC draw will unfold is that the Boks and the Blacks will meet in a semi-final – providing the Boks beat Wales, Fiji, Samoa and Nambia to win their pool, and the Kiwis are similarly undefeated in their group.

That foreboding we spoke about stems from the reality that key members of the Boks’ starting line-up in that anticipated October play-off will be Bulls players and, even more significantly, the Boks will be playing the same game plan that looked sadly anachronistic against a Crusaders team that is ahead of time, not dwelling in bygone eras.

What worked in 2009, when the Boks’ kick-and-chase game beat the British Lions and won the Tri-Nations, will not necessarily work in 2011. The game has evolved. It has moved on with the law focuses and for the first time in history the signs are pointing towards a team that keeps the ball winning the Webb Ellis Cup.

The Boks won 15-6 in Paris in 2007 with the famous “strangulation” technique that with relative ease saw off opponents during the course of the tournament. There was no need to score a try in the final.

But in 2011, Super Rugby is showing that teams worthy of the RWC final need to have more than one sharpened arrow in their quiver.

The Crusaders have shown that they can play the physical game and in fact dominate teams that pride themselves in that department, ie the Bulls. And they then have the backs to annihilate anybody.

But can the Bulls play another way? No, not while dogmatic Victor Matfield is the captain. The stubborn veteran is set in his ways and he will continue to tell his team that it is not the game plan at fault but the execution of it.

Well last week, first-choice Boks such as Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn looked like Bulls in need of a pasture to retire in, while contracted Bok Wynand Olivier’s defence against opposite number Sonny Bill Williams was disturbingly flimsy, although expected Bok No 12 starter Jean de Villiers will surely be much better, and we know No 13 Jaque Fourie will do the business. No worries there.

On the same weekend that the Bulls were humbled, the Stormers lost to a Reds side that more that matched them physically.

We know the Australian log leaders can run like the wind given the skill and the athletes in their team but at Newlands they chose a different, just as effective route, and they beat the Stormers at the physical game that prevailed for the Capetonians at Loftus Versfeld and Kings Park.

So we know the leading Kiwi and Aussies teams can play more than one style to get a result. But will the Boks be able to?


Conrad at fullback and no Habana( whoop whoop) !!!!!!! for DHL Stormers

DHL STORMERS SIDE TO TAKE ON THE MTN LIONS ANNOUNCED

Coach Allister Coetzee today named a match 22, to take on the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.

CJ Van Der Linde gets a start and will wear the number 3 jersey, as Brok Harris, is rotated to the bench.

Lock Rynhardt Elstadt falls out of the match 22 having not recovered from the blow to the upper leg sustained in the game against the Reds. In his absence, De Kock Steenkamp starts at 4, with Anton Van Zyl moving up from the Vodacom Cup team to provide cover on the bench.

Bryan Habana falls out of the match 22 after not recovering fully from the knock he took to his shoulder on the weekend.

In a positional change, Gio Aplon will wear the 11 jersey, whilst Conrad Jantjes takes over the fullback duties, having played Vodacom Cup last week.

The DHL Stormers will have their second bye week after the fixture against the MTN Lions.

All of Habana, De Villiers and Elstadt are expected to be fit for the game against the Sharks at DHL Newlands on 30 April.

The team was announced as follows:

1. Wicus Blaauw

2. Deon Fourie

3. CJ van der Linde

4. De Kock Steenkamp

5. Andries Bekker

6. Schalk Burger (C)

7. Francois Louw

8. Duane Vermeulen

9. Dewaldt Duvenage

10. Peter Grant

11. Gio Aplon

12. Juan de Jongh

13. Jaque Fourie

14. Danie Poolman

15. Conrad Jantjes

Reserves:

16. Ethienne Reynecke

17. Brok Harris

18. Anton Van Zyl

19. Nick Koster

20. Enrico Januarie

21. Gary van Aswegen

22. Johann Sadie

Match Details:

Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg

Kick-off: 17h05

Referee: Marius Jonker


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