Fraser Brown: Lions must turn to Finn Russell to breach South Africa’s blitz defence

The first half of the second Test must be the worst 40 minutes - or should I say the worst 62 minutes for that’s how long it lasted - of Test match rugby I think I’ve ever watched.

Finn Russell should come into contention for the third Test between South Africa and the Lions. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Finn Russell should come into contention for the third Test between South Africa and the Lions. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

If World Rugby is serious about making the game an attractive and accessible sport across the globe, then Saturday would surely have sounded alarm bells.

Rugby is a game designed to ebb and flow, phase after phase of physicality, pace, and precision, highly skilled but littered with mistakes, some forced, some unforced. There is an acceptance that no player or team will play the perfect, error-free game yet we find ourselves in an era where every refereeing decision is slowed down and scrutinised, every 50/50 challenge and every mistake put under the microscope.

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We need to get the big calls right, and eliminate reckless and dangerous behaviour and for this we need to stop and check but the overuse of the TMO and trial by social media of match officials is paralysing the sport and turning it into a poor form of American football.

Finn Russell can do things that the other 10s in the Lions squad cannot. Picture: Steve Haag/PA Wire

As for the rugby, South Africa are a team with a very basic game plan; power up front, dominance, and territory. In all the time I have watched rugby this has been the backbone to every good South African team and this one is no different. On Saturday, in the second half, South Africa rediscovered their game, and with every set-piece penalty, every dominant collision, every recovered high ball they gained more and more confidence.

However, as excellent as South Africa were after half-time, the Lions were equally as poor. A game plan designed to match the Boks up front, to pin them in their own half and win the aerial battle had worked the previous week against a side desperately short of match practice, but in truth it seemed like a plan designed to get the Lions over the line in this Test series and it came badly unstuck after half time.

So how do the Lions turn it around in the third Test decider? Well, I’d like to see Warren Gatland pick a team to go and out and play rugby and attack the Springboks.

I’d certainly have Finn Russell in the 23 if fit, and it would just be a question of whether he starts or sits on the bench.

The Lions struggled at the aerial battle and there are likely to be changes for the third Test. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

Finn can do things that the other 10s can’t. He’s got great vision and his kicking game is superb. With South Africa’s blitz defence there is a lot of space on the wings and Finn is brilliant at being able to use the kick-pass to find space and get in behind them.

Whoever starts in the back three for the Lions this weekend needs to be given ball to attack, something that hasn’t happened in the first two Tests and Finn is the best 10 at getting the ball into their hands.

South Africa’s defence is aggressive but narrow, and if you can get in behind and generate quick ball, there are opportunities to play through them and pressure their discipline. One of the Lions’ biggest strengths is their lineout and lineout drive - we saw that in the first Test. If they can get territory and possession, they can hurt South Africa up front.

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I know Finn’s been out with an Achilles injury, but he has been back training for a couple of weeks. I’ve had to come straight into Test match rugby after injuries in the past and it can be difficult to reach the intensity needed immediately but knowing Finn’s character, this won’t worry him. What you don’t see with Finn is the amount of work he puts in behind the scenes. He is so well prepared and spends so much time studying the opposition, looking at the game, learning the game.

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I expect to see other changes in the Lions team. To be honest, I thought the whole back three were poor and really struggled aerially in the second Test.

South Africa’s game plan will be no different this weekend. As Martin Johnson said, South Africa have two game plans: if the first one doesn’t work, they just do it again but better.

I wouldn’t be surprised if at least two of the back three of Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe and Anthony Watson were changed. I thought Josh Adams was unlucky not to be picked for the first Test and I can see him being brought in as well as Liam Williams.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Hamish Watson was selected. I think Tom Curry was lucky to keep his place after the first game.

Sunday was a strange day as controversy raged over alleged incidents during the game, with social media fuelling the debate.

As far as I could tell there was nothing coming out of the South Africa camp nor from the officials. So, I thought it was strange that the Lions put out a statement from Stuart

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responding to accusations of biting that were made on Twitter.

I don’t know if that’s just a reaction to the way things are going with social media, and perhaps they were influenced by the Erasmus video which generated so much heat.

Some people were predicting that Cheslin Kolbe or Maro Itoje would be cited. What none of us was expecting was Kyle Sinckler being cited for allegedly biting someone at the bottom of a ruck. It was just a pretty odd day all round.

I can only imagine a complaint has come from the South Africans about Sinckler and it’ll now hinge on whether there is clear video evidence.

The outcome of this could be significant because Kyle has been on the bench for both Test matches and if he is suspended it could bring Zander Fagerson into the mix.

The Lions are about selecting the best from four national sides, bonding as quickly as you can on and off the pitch then doing whatever is necessary to support the players selected each weekend. Players, pundits, and fans can all become very parochial when selection comes around, it’s only natural.

Whether you’re Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English this weekend isn’t about national pride or one-upmanship, it’s about selecting the best possible 23 to take on the world champions in their backyard to win the series. I would love nothing more than for all the Scottish boys, all my friends and teammates, to be selected to play. But what I would love even more is for them all to come home as part of a winning Lions tour regardless of who’s selected.

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