Heartache for British & Irish Lions in Cape Town
South Africa squeaked their way to a 2-1 series win over the British & Irish Lions, as 2009 hero Morne Steyn displayed the calmest of dispositions to inspire the world champions in the third and final Test in Cape Town.
Three Scots featured in this final act of the 2021 Lions tour, with Duhan van der Merwe and Ali Price both starting and Finn Russell coming off the bench early doors to deliver a performance full of pep and vigour.
Van der Merwe became the first Scot to start all three British & Irish Lions Test matches since the great Tom Smith (both 1997 and 2001), with Price also featuring in each of the games against the world champion Springboks, starting two and coming off the bench in the middle Test.
Finn Russell ensured that no fewer than seven Scots earned a full British & Irish Lions cap on the 2021 tour to South Africa, the stand-off coming on for the unfortunate Dan Biggar after 10 minutes, in doing so joining van der Merwe, Price, Stuart Hogg, Hamish Watson, Rory Sutherland and Chris Harris in that exclusive club. Tighthead prop Zander Fagerson, the eighth Scotland player selected by head coach Warren Gatland this year and still just 25 years old, should have at least one more opportunity to stake his claim for similar honours.
Russell took little time to make his mark on proceedings, serenely landing a penalty from 35 metres five minutes after entering the fray. In the process, he became the first Scot to score British & Irish Lions Test points since Alan Tait went over in the corner during the latter stages of the First Test in 1997, against the same opposition.
Hooker Ken Owens got propelled over for the game’s opening try shortly after, with Russell nabbing the extras, although Handre Pollard’s two penalties ensured that the teams went in at the interval with little to split them.
HALF-TIME: South Africa 6-10 British & Irish Lions
A sapping, 14-phase series of carries by the Springboks at the start of the second half failed to produce points for the hosts, both sides having eschewed opportunities throughout the game to kick for goal in search of vital points, opting instead for territorial forays.
The mesmeric Cheslin Kolbe hauled South Africa back into it, dancing his way to the line and with it the exchange of the lead, Pollard converting to make it 13-10 with little over 20 minutes of the tour left.
Again, the Lions came back, Russell landing an enormous penalty from the best part of 45 metres, having being barged by Jasper Wiese, to draw the sides level at 13 points apiece.
The remarkable Morne Steyn, series hero in 2009 and five years since his last Test involvement for South Africa, restored the hosts’ three-point lead with a mighty kick, having replaced Pollard after 65 minutes.
With five minutes to go, the irrepressible Russell again levelled scores with a booming penalty and yet unsurprisingly, more drama was in the offing. Another penalty, awarded for not rolling away, afforded 37-year-old Steyn the finish he and millions of South Africans had no doubt been dreaming of. Just like 12 years ago, he duly obliged with unerring accuracy to seal victory and with it, the spoils.
Ian McGeechan’s storied Test winners of 1997, of Tait and Townsend, of Smith and Wainwright, could ultimately not be emulated as the British & Irish Lions agonised their way to the narrowest of 2-1 series defeats.
The pride of every Scottish rugby supporter at the selection of eight players in the touring squad, as well as Gregor Townsend, Steve Tandy and Gavin Vaughan as part of the coaching staff, will however live long in the memory.
FULL-TIME: South Africa 19-16 British & Irish Lions
South Africa:Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende; Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (capt), Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith; Herschel Jantjies, Morné Steyn, Damian Willemse.
British & Irish Lions:Liam Williams; Josh Adams, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Adam Beard, Sam Simmonds; Conor Murray, Finn Russell, Elliot Daly.