Who’s hot and who’s not!

Colin Newboult

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

Springboks and Morne Steyn: Congratulations to South Africa who claimed a 2-1 triumph over the British and Irish Lions after winning the third and deciding Test 19-16. Like most of the series, it wasn’t particularly pretty or convincing, but they defended superbly and had just enough quality when it mattered to edge past the tourists. It was also some story for Morne Steyn, who came onto the field in the second half and repeated his heroics from 2009 by producing the series-clinching contribution. A penalty from the pivot secured the victory in 2009 and 12 years later he did exactly the same thing to leave the Lions once again heartbroken.

Finn Russell: Quite frankly, the Scottish maverick showed what Warren Gatland needed in the opening two Tests. Injury may have ruled him out of the first game but you get the feeling he would have never been trusted by the head coach anyway. Instead, he was left to twiddle his thumbs until 10 minutes into the third encounter when Russell entered the field and completely revolutionised the visitors’ attack. Every time the Lions went through the phases, the 28-year-old dictated play superbly and put the Springboks under pressure for the first time in the series. Unfortunately, the visitors struggled in the third quarter, reducing Russell’s impact after the break, but he lifted the tempo once more in the final 20 minutes. Only his forwards’ profligacy close to the line and their inability to win set-piece ball at the end prevented the Scotsman from going down as a British and Irish Lions hero.

The return of Miles Harrison: It was great to hear the voice of the legendary Sky Sports commentator during the third Test between South Africa and the Lions having missed the rest of the tour following surgery for cancer. Conor McNamara has done a fine job in his absence but Harrison is the modern voice of rugby for those in the UK. It is wonderful to see him healthy enough to return to his role and we wish him well as he recovers from illness.

Aaron Smith’s 100th Test cap: It was a momentous occasion for the All Blacks veteran, who brought up a century of Test appearances in style with a polished performance in his team’s triumph against the Wallabies in their Bledisloe Cup encounter at Eden Park. The 32-year-old, who made his international debut in 2012, showed why he is rated as one of New Zealand’s best ever scrum-halves as he was in the thick of the action and finished with two try assists for David Havili and Damian McKenzie. He left the field to a standing ovation when he was replaced in the 72nd minute and after the game he received his 100 Test cap from former All Blacks captain Kieran Read. Congratulations, Aaron!

COLD AS ICE!

2021 Lions series: This tour rarely disappoints. Ever since the disaster in 2005, fans have been treated to epic spectacles. From one of the great series in 2009 against South Africa to the outstanding draw in New Zealand in 2017, there have been tight, tense and high quality encounters, but this one won’t live long in the memory. If it does then it will be due to all the off-field matters, with Covid-19 initially putting the tour in doubt before it forced the games to be played behind closed doors. There was then coronavirus outbreaks in both the South African and Lions camps, and finally three very disappointing matches. As enthralling and physical as they were, both teams lacked positivity with the ball and it duly became a grind, particularly when the antics of Rassie Erasmus took all focus away from the teams and on the match officials, who went into the games under significant, and ultimately needless, pressure.

Profligate Lions: As intimated above, the tourists had their chances to win Saturday’s game, and to do so comfortably. However, stubborn Springbok defence and a number of errors in the opposition 22 stopped them from claiming the series. In many facets, the Lions were the better side, while they were certainly far more ambitious with ball in hand for the first time in the Tests, but Warren Gatland’s men ultimately paid the price for their profligacy. It was very much one that got away.

Suspended Wallabies trio: Australia’s preparations for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup opener against the All Blacks in Auckland hit a snag when they were forced to take disciplinary action against Marika Koroibete, Pone Fa’amausili and Isi Naisarani for breaching team protocols following a team dinner. They were found to have been drinking alcohol well beyond an agreed time prior to a training-free day. Of the trio, Koroibete looked like a certain starter for that Eden Park encounter and his actions were particularly disappointing as his presence in the matchday squad was viewed as a boost for his team after he had his red card rescinded.

Worrying TV trend: International rugby is a huge draw. The Six Nations is always an important part of the annual sporting calendar in the northern hemisphere, while the July and end-of-year fixtures are similarly exciting for both hardcore and fair-weather supporters, but broadcasters in the UK don’t appear to be interested in the Rugby Championship. No doubt the kick-off times don’t help, with matches in Australia and New Zealand taking place on Saturday morning, but there is a concerning trend happening. At the last minute a deal was agreed between SANZAAR and Sky Sports to show the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, but it seems as though their interest in rugby in dwindling. Sky didn’t broadcast either Super Rugby AU or Aotearoa while BT Sport and Premier Sports have not decided to enter the market. Amazon could enter proceedings after televising the Autumn Nations Cup but the uncertainty over these rights means the UK viewer is missing out and it is potentially hampering the interest in the sport in the northern hemisphere.

 

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Biggar's first half injury provides Russell chance to excel

Mark Smith and Adam Kyriacou from the Planet Rugby Show discuss the impressive performance of Finn Russell after an early injury to Dan Biggar gave the fly-half the chance to play a starring role in the British and Irish Lions' defeat to South Africa this weekend.