Spectator sport

Can the Lions prise open the strong Boks?

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

You would need a digger to explore the levels of irony in a Springbok chief slagging off an opponent’s dirty play. But that’s what Rassie Erasmus, the South Africa director of rugby, was up to when he used Twitter to question Owen Farrell’s choices of tackle technique.

Fine and dandy and all part of the pre-Test build up to get the ear of the referee after the ferociously hard Lions defeat to a South Africa ‘A’ side. Yet hasn’t Erasmus got a point? Farrell has long had a taste for the high tackle and has largely got away with it. It’s going to be trickier now, I suspect, in what could be a boiling first Test in Cape Town this weekend, where Farrell will start on the bench. And don’t worry about the empty stadiums: the excitement is still overpowering. The Boks will come for the Lions at full tilt; but if you’re looking for exhilarating free-flowing Southern-hemisphere rugby, look away now. This will be a full-bodied battle, as human trucks smash into each other for 80 minutes.

On the basis of the ‘A’ game and the 2019 World Cup final it might look iffy for the Lions, but this will be all about the scrum. Warren Gatland clearly loves Alun Wyn Jones, who will be captain (otherwise why bring him back?), and his front row is exceptionally strong. But if Alun Wyn is carried off minutes into the match, prepare for him to be swiftly succeeded as captain by Maro Itoje, currently getting in touch with his inner aesthete in a floral shirt, advertising wallpaper. Not something you are likely to see many Springbok locks doing, so fair play to Maro.

Meanwhile Faf de Klerk, the apotheosis of the wily scrum-half and a man who could pick a fight on the Moon, will be the pivot on which the Springboks’ power game depends. But if the Lions can hold the Boks for 60 minutes, Gatland could throw on his bench and run the pants off South Africa. That’s the plan anyway…

What a shot from Liam Livingstone, the Lancashire all-rounder who has seemingly become an overnight sensation, despite being nearly 28 and on the radar for some time as a cricketer with bags of talent but struggling to make the most of it. Then bang: that 42-ball century (England’s fastest ever in T20) and, possibly even more remarkable, a straight hit for six that went out of one Headingley — the cricket stadium — and into another: Leeds Rhinos’ rugby ground. With any luck he will soon emulate Albert Trott who played Test cricket for Australia and England and remains the only man to have hit the ball over the Lord’s pavilion, in July 1899.

Livingstone credits Paul Collingwood with correcting his fault of allowing his left hip to collapse when playing shots for suddenly making him one of the world’s best one-day batsmen. Maybe that’s why I never made it past the house 2nd XI.

When is a car accident perfectly acceptable? When it’s a ‘racing incident’: motor racing’s quaint term for an acceptable prang. The
F1 authorities couldn’t decide whether or not the Verstappen-Hamilton coming together at Silverstone was a racing incident, so handed Hamilton a punishment (a ten-second time penalty) that didn’t rule him out of winning the British Grand Prix, which he duly did.

Red Bull cried foul and Lewis waved his Union flag for all his worth. I’m not sure who was right but it was great theatre. Verstappen was thinking: ‘I’m turning in so you better back out.’ Hamilton’s view was: ‘If we touch it’ll be a lot worse for you.’ When someone gets hurt, or worse, there will be outrage. Until then it’s just a racing incident, a line we could all try next time we have a bump on the A303.

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