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Lions player ratings vs South Africa: Itoje impressive in Second Test defeat but tourists lose physical battle

·4 min read
Maro Itoje’s performance stood out on a bad day for the Lions in Cape Town (Getty Images)
Maro Itoje’s performance stood out on a bad day for the Lions in Cape Town (Getty Images)

The British and Irish Lions were comprehensively beaten in the Second Test of their three-match series with South Africa, succumbing to a physical onslaught and a relentless aerial bombardment.

The series is locked at 1-1 as the crescendo approaches next week, but Warren Gatland and his team will have much to ponder before that deciding fixture arrives.

Here, Daniel Gallan takes a closer look at the individual Lions performances in Cape Town.


15 Stuart Hogg - 5

Usually composed under the high ball, the Scot struggled under the rolling barrage that came his way. He wasn’t the only member of either back three who was below par in this regard, but had he been more composed the Lions may have gained more control.

14 Anthony Watson - 6

He barely put a foot wrong, but then he didn’t get much opportunity to do much right. When he did get his hands on the ball he sparkled, once stepping two players close to the touchline. However, he was rendered a spectator for most of this arm wrestle.

13 Chris Harris - 5

Was selected to bring extra heft in the midfield, and he largely did so in defence. But with the Lions’ half-backs kicking the ball as often as they did, it rarely came to him.

12 Robbie Henshaw - 7

Could have given his side a substantial lead at half-time were it not for a heroic tackle from Siya Kolisi with the ball already over the try line.

Stood up to Damian de Allende’s direct running and offered cutting lines of his own when on the front foot. One of the few commendable performers in the Lions backline.

11 Duhan van der Merwe - 4

One he’ll want to forget. Was lucky to stay on the field after tipping Pieter-Steph du Toit in the tackle and was given a yellow soon after for a cynical trip on Cheslin Kolbe.

Looked more eager for a scrap than a jump for the high ball. Floundered for much of the game and was hooked before the final whistle.

10 Dan Biggar - 5

Was at the heart of everything that was working for the Lions with ball in hand in the first half. Launched bombs into Springbok territory every chance he got and for a while it worked.

But his penalty miss on 51 minutes proved costly as it would have nudged his side in front. They did not get a better chance to do so for the rest of the game.

9 Conor Murray - 5

The best thing one could say of his game is that he wasn’t carried off on a stretcher. Kolbe’s challenge in the air could have been a lot worse.


1 Mako Vunipola - 6

A solid performance from the veteran. Showed enough to retain his place for the decider next week.

2 Luke Cowan-Dickie - 5

Didn’t do much wrong, but lacked the impact he had last week despite making nine tackles. Once the Springbok bench emptied, so too did his reserves.

3 Tadhg Furlong - 5

Hard to say what exactly goes on in the scrum with experienced referees seemingly guessing most of the time. However, it was telling that the Springbok set-piece had more on the Irishman’s side for the 56 minutes he was on the field.

4 Maro Itoje - 7 | Star Man

A menace in the lineout and on the ground. He gave his all and fought for the badge on his chest. Of all the Lions players he probably deserved to lose the least.

Will not be happy though with the way the South African locks won back control from the touchline or that Eben Etzebeth triumphed in their personal battle.

5 Alun Wyn Jones - 5

By the end he was bleeding from every hole in his face. Both a testament to his effort and a metaphor for the battering his forwards took in the second half.

Had eight carries and made just six metres. Seems the Boks tight five had placed a target on the Lions skipper.

6 Courtney Lawes - 5

Another Lions player who did not match his performance from a week ago. Bossed at the breakdown when he got there and was denied the opportunity for his trademark rangy runs.

7 Tom Curry - 5

Put himself about but was mostly ineffective. Did not win a single turnover.

8 Jack Conan - 5

Did not thrive in the wake of the more physically challenging task of marking Jasper Wiese at the base of the South African scrum - as opposed to the relatively diminutive Kwagga Smith.

Selected subs

16 Ken Owens - 4

Missed his first two throws in the lineout at a crucial time in the game.

17 Rory Sutherland - 5, 18 Kyle Sinckler- 5

Both props faced the tough task of standing up to a Springbok pack with momentum.

20 Taulupe Faletau - 6

Added some spark once he arrived. But this attritional contest was never going to be a game for the Welshman.

21 Ali Price - 5

Struggled to keep tempo and played mostly on the back foot. Didn’t get much territory to work with.

22 Owen Farrell - 6

One excellent touch-finding kick might convince Gatland to start the English skipper.

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