Trevor Nyakane, the Springboks replacement prop, loving a second-half scrum
Credit: SKY SPORTS
That was more like it. Having fizzled out in the first Test, the group of Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Marco van Staden and Kwagga Smith were far more effective seven days later, with their impact and the British and Irish Lions’ inability to catch a cold leading to South Africa levelling the series.
The first thing to note are the times Jacques Nienaber opted to bring on fresh faces, with injury playing a part each week. Ox Nche wouldn’t have been taken off in the first Test had it not been for a neck injury, while Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane joined him in being replaced at the break.
While bringing Kwagga Smith on for Pieter-Steph du Toit after 22 minutes obviously wasn’t part of the plan, the other five forwards in the second Test – Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Marco van Staden – all came on after the 56th minute when the game was still tight at 11-9 following Makazole Mapimpi’s try. From there, the Springboks started to accelerate.
The Bomb Squad compared – first and second Test minutes
The extra forward the Springboks had on the bench in the second Test makes comparing the raw numbers between the first two Tests a little skewed, but, it’s still interesting to note that South Africa’s pack replacements won three turnovers in the second Test compared to none the week before.
One of those came from Malcolm Marx, despite what looks like a questionable right knee on the ground. This was a rare instance of the Lions managing to beat the Springboks’ rush defence, thanks to Owen Farrell’s dummy and delayed pass to Taulupe Faletau. Even though the Wales No 8 is tackled by Eben Etzebeth, it’s a gain. Until Marx comes in and snuffs it out.
Vincent Koch, the Saracens prop up against familiar faces in the Lions side, came good with a turnover as well on his club team-mate Elliot Daly late on, taking advantage of Daly’s timely slip and Lukhanyo Am’s tackle.
Finally when it came to South Africa thriving at the breakdown, there was this from Marco van Staden in the final minutes, earning the final penalty for Handré Pollard to knock over and seal a dominant win. For Leicester Tigers supporters intrigued by the South African back-row heading their way next season to link up with another Springbok in the bruising Jasper Wiese, here’s a taste of what’s coming your way.
Van Staden 2
He’s not shy of some heavy lifting either, helping out Am in the air.
Switching between tighthead and loosehead at Test level is not straightforward – hence why there are so few elite props who do it regularly. So, understandably, when Nyakane who has been playing tighthead all season for the Bulls was named in the No 17 shirt for his first Test appearance for the Springboks since December 2017 against Wales, eyebrows were raised.
No need for concern. Nyakane was straight into the Lions on the loosehead side of the scrum in a manner and made the transition from tighthead look easy, forcing a collapse here out of Kyle Sinckler.
Winning two penalties against a top-tier tighthead such as Sinckler given that recent lack of loosehead action represents impeccable work by Nyakane. No wonder he celebrated. The initial engagement for this scrum was steady from both sides before the secondary shove had the Lions walking.
Steven Kitshoff – who we should all be referring to by his nickname ‘Spicy Plum’ – will start again this Saturday assuming Nche isn’t fit, but if Jacques Nienaber has a full deck of front-rowers to pick from then Nyakane could even miss out on the matchday 23. In which case, what a cameo, at the age of 32. His injury at the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign was cruel, but this has been a fine response.
Lood de Jager
The whole notion of the ‘Bomb Squad’ is built around unwavering physicality and subduing opponents into submission, and that’s exactly what Lood de Jager brings. While gain-line carries for the Lions felt scarce in that muted second half last Saturday, De Jager was into the thick of the action and dragging tacklers with him.
Straight in at the lineout after coming on, he was having none of Maro Itoje’s attempts at misdirection and pips Alun Wyn Jones for a lineout steal at the tail. Having three locks on the field obviously helped South Africa in this area and Ken Owens had a torrid time even when the Lions won their own lineout ball back. It’s sharp work from the Sale lock.
Finally, the Lions needed so many parts of the game to go their way in that second half to try and reel the Springboks in – set-piece, aerial battle, breakdown – but also the restarts as well. With the Lions chasing the game, De Jager claimed one restart after Lukhanyo Am’s try, then another below, with ease. More ball for South Africa, meaning more kicking into the Lions half and more possession won back with better territory due to the Lions becoming alarmingly poor under each high kick.
We’ll analyse South Africa’s line-up to face the Lions later this week, but there are some interesting calls to be made in the pack with Pieter-Steph du Toit presumably out and Duane Vermeulen now back in the squad, albeit with uncertain fitness levels after ankle surgery. Does Franco Mostert start at six after he did so well in the latter stages of the second Test? Or do the Springboks go with Kwagga Smith?
As ever with the world champions since the start of 2019, it’s not just about the forwards who start, but the firepower to come off the bench to replace them. They didn’t really turn up in the first Test, but certainly did in the second.