Lions Tour 2021: Rugby’s reputation on the line in third Test decider

It’s not just the Lions who will find themselves under the microscope in Saturday’s series decider against South Africa. The sport of rugby took a battering last weekend and the onus is on both sides to produce a spectacle worthy of the occasion and restore some lustre.

Cheslin Kolbe's high challenge on Lions scrum-half Conor Murray, right, provoked this flare-up, one of many incidents which scarred the second Test. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Cheslin Kolbe's high challenge on Lions scrum-half Conor Murray, right, provoked this flare-up, one of many incidents which scarred the second Test. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

Speaking this week, Warren Gatland said Lions tours are second only to World Cups in terms of prestige but the ugly nature of the second Test is unlikely to have converted many casual viewers to the sport.

The stop-start nature was a source of frustration to the coach who accused the Springboks of delaying tactics but he has also urged his side to play the game in the correct manner.

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“We got a little bit embroiled in pushing and shoving and things that were going on and we just need to make sure we stay away from that and concentrate on the rugby and let the referee make the decisions and make sure we’re not grabbing and holding each other, and guys running in and pushing players in the back and those sorts of things,” said Gatland.

Referee Ben O'Keeffe had to talks to captains Siya Kolisi of South Africa and Alun Wyn Jones of the Lions. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

“I know everyone is on edge and there’s a little bit of pushing and shoving at times but we’ve just got to ignore that and make sure we go back to playing the game properly.”

Rassie Erasmus’ online attack on the refereeing ahead of the second match was beyond the pale for many and South Africa’s director of rugby has been conspicuously quiet this week. He may feel he has done his job but it is hard to quantify how much of an effect his hour-long video rant had on the match which the Boks won 27-9.

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Mathieu Raynal will take charge of the third Test having been an assistant for the first two and Gatland would like to see the French referee respected. The Lions coaching team will meet with the match officials ahead of the game and they will urge them to clamp down on time-wasting.

Lions coach Warren Gatland has urged his players to play the game in the correct manner on Saturday. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

Each half lasted over an hour last weekend and while Gatland was keen to pin the blame on the Boks, there were a number of incidents where responsibility has to be shared.

Referee Ben O’Keeffe had to speak to both captains as early as the second minute and the bad feeling continued throughout.

There were yellow cards for opposing wingers Duhan van der Merwe and Cheslin Kolbe which could have been red, Kyle Sinckler was cited and then cleared of biting, Stuart Hogg clashed with Willie le Roux and Maro Itoje was pictured kneeling on the neck of Damian de Allende, prompting a furious response from the Springboks centre.

“Every four years we have a World Cup and we know how important it is,” said Gatland. “The next biggest thing on the World Rugby calendar is the Lions and you don’t want to be in a position where any of the match officials can be potentially criticised or questioned and we’ve already had that.

“That’s been disappointing and for everyone we need to make sure we respect the officials as much as we possibly can. There is a lot at stake and I understand that at times we all get frustrated about certain decisions and sometimes you just have to suck it up and get on with it.”

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