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One-nil down in the three-match series, the Springboks need a turnaround in Cape Town to keep hopes of overall victory alive. Lions series have seen many a famous comeback in the second Test. Here are some of them told by the men that helped make it happen.
Ballymore, Brisbane, 8 July, 1989: Australia 12-19 British and Irish Lions
The Battle of Ballymore as it became known with several bare-knuckle punch-ups that led to accusations that the Lions deliberately set out to rough-up the opposition following their 30-12 defeat (four tries to nil) by Australia in the first test in Sydney seven days earlier.
Brian Moore, Lions hooker
“We intended to climb into them as our pack had been so soundly beaten the week before. We hadn’t orchestrated the precise detail of a Battle of Ballymore but we were ready for anything so when (Wallaby) scrum-half, Nick Farr-Jones reacted so explosively to Robert Jones standing on his foot, that was the signal to wade in.
“The Wallabies gave us an inch and we took a mile. The Springboks are in the same boat as we were back then. They know that they’ve got to win the physical battle for 80 minutes. Of course, there is other detail to layer on but if your emotional tenor is not just right then everything else falls by the wayside. We were still behind (12-9) in the 76th minute but I was absolutely confident that we would win. That’s what being in the right mood means. Jerry (Guscott) and Gavin (Hastings) got our late tries and we returned to Sydney to win the third Test (19-18) and the series the following week.”
Wellington, New Zealand, 26 June 1993: New Zealand 7-20 British and Irish Lions
The All Blacks had come through to win a contentious first Test (20-18) in Christchurch, Australian referee, Brian Kinsey, awarding a dubious penalty in the last minute which fly-half, Grant ‘Dead Eye’ Fox, banged over. The Lions headed to Wellington in pent-up mood, furious about that late call but with the knowledge that they had the measure of their opponents.
Dick Best, Lions assistant coach
“We picked seven Englishman and one Irishman (prop, Nick Popplewell) in the pack so as to lay some real foundations up-front. We knew if we got selection right we could beat them. A certain Martin Johnson had just arrived on tour and he slotted into the second-row alongside Martin Bayfield who had an outstanding afternoon. The back-row of Ben Clarke, Peter Winterbottom and Dean Richards, wasn’t too shabby either.
“I still have nightmares about that Kinsey decision. That gave us an extra edge, a sense of grievance going into that second Test. To judge by the way Rassie (Erasmus) is going on and on about officials, looks as if the Springboks are fuelled that way too. We were super-disciplined as the Lions have to be this week. There’s some stat that it was the first time in five years that Grant Fox didn’t land a penalty shot at goal, mainly because we didn’t give him the chance to. Rob Andrew controlled the field for us and we eventually ran up a record Lions score against New Zealand.”
Colonial Stadium, Melbourne, 7 July 2001: Australia 35-14 British and Irish Lions
The Wallabies had been stunned into submission at the Gabba seven days earlier by the sheer brilliance of tries scored in particular by Jason Robinson and Brian ‘Waltzing’ O’Driscoll as well as the first appearance of the ‘Sea of Red’ packed into the famous cricket ground, supposedly the spiritual heartland of Aussie sport. It wasn’t to be that night as the Lions surfed that wave of passionate support, Dafydd James and Scott Quinnell scoring their other tries, a set-back on and off the field for Australia that prompted an immediate response.
George Gregan, Australia scrum half
“We were swamped in that first Test, totally outplayed by the Lions and the dressing-room was a pretty sombre place. The ‘Boks will have felt similar in Cape Town but that mood doesn’t last long. It can’t. Like them, we knew we were far from match-hardened with only one warm-up match. You can’t underestimate that factor. We had to take our licking and saddle up.
“Playing at this level, you know you have to hang tough, sort your detail and be ready to pounce. That’s what happened. The Lions looked good again, leading 11-6 at half-time, but then the tide turned. They had injuries, and, yes, Richard Hill going off (after a high hit from Wallaby centre, Nathan Grey) did make a difference as he’s a super player and was a menace for me, but so many other things are in play at any given moment. Joe Roff makes a great read to intercept a long pass from Jonny Wilkinson to score. That’s a 14-point turnaround right there.
“Like us, the ‘Boks will know that there is no second chance if they lose. You need belief and a sense of urgency to really go for it. We scored 29 points in that second half and on we went to Sydney to claim the decider.”
Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, 29 June, 2013: Australia 16-15 British and Irish Lions
The first Test in Brisbane had gone down to the wire with Wallaby, Kurtley Beale, missing a kick in the final moments that would have sealed the game but the Lions came through to secure the win at the Suncorp following tries from George North and Alex Cuthbert. North’s battle with the new star of Australian sport, Israel Folau, was to be one of the highlights of the series. The Wallabies suffered injuries and had a troubling disciplinary hearing to contend with after their captain, lock, James Horwill, was cited for an alleged stamp on Alun Wyn Jones who required stitches for a head wound. Horwill was cleared by a panel on the following Monday only for World Rugby to request a review of that decision.
James Horwill, Australia captain
“Yeah, it was an interesting few days, a challenge to get your head around but that’s exactly what you have to do and quickly. There is so little time between these days, and that’s the great thing about a series, you have to respond or you’re doomed. I had to conceal any anxiety about my hearing that Monday from the team. It became a bit of a soap opera with the appeal and the media interest. In its way that scrutiny is great because it shows how big a deal the series is. That appears to be the way down in South Africa at the moment even without the fans.
“The level of support in our series was brilliant from both sides. The Lions supporters laid down the challenge and our fans responded. The singing of our national anthem was the loudest I have ever heard. The Springboks won’t be able to draw on that but they have so much experience in their ranks that they won’t be in panic mode.
“I never mentioned that it was ‘doe-or-die’ to our players. They don’t need all that. You’d have to be stuck under a rock not to realise the importance of it all. We focussed on detail, on process, and all that, suppressing emotions until the final whistle when it all came out. Leigh Halfpenny had a 55-metre kick to win it at the death. It was heart-in-the-mouth stuff. ‘Please don’t go over,’ I was saying to myself. It didn’t. Those are the fine margins and they’ll be in play again on Saturday in Cape Town.”
Wellington Stadium, New Zealand, 1 July 2017: New Zealand 21-24 British and Irish Lions
The series was shaping to take on an all-too-familiar hue with victory to the All Blacks in the first Test by 30-15, outscoring the Lions by four tries to two at their nigh-on invincible fortress of Eden Park in Auckland, the venue for the third Test and where they had not lost in 23 years. That put even more onus on the Lions to deliver something in the second test in Wellington. The Windy City put on its usual cheery welcome for visiting teams as the heavens opened and the gales howled.
Sean O’Brien, Lions flanker
“There was a ‘no tomorrow’ feel about the whole week’s build-up, the knowledge that we had one shot to save the series and get ourselves back on track. That’s what it comes down to on Lions tours. For all the great crack about bonding and the adventure of touring round the country, it’s about getting a result in the Test series. That’s how you’ll be remembered as the South Africans will know. Lose a series and it’s a kick in the guts.
“We drew on the energy of our fans in Wellington that week. And it paid off. I know the All Blacks were down to 14 men after Sonny Bill Williams got sent off (in the 25th minute). I was ready to clean him out as he came down that channel but he copped Anthony Watson high. It was a definite red card. But we knew we had to manage that situation. There was no gimme about the victory. We had to work for it.
“New Zealand led 18-9 (six penalties from Beauden Barrett) and we didn’t get past them until late in the day but we knew we’d get there and bring to an end what was a 47-match, eight-year winning streak for New Zealand on home soil. The Springboks will have the same mindset as we had four years ago. There is ‘no tomorrow’ if you lose.”