Muddy water, allowed to stand, will clear. If you are looking for clarification on how this hugely thrilling test match came to such a tight finish you don't have to wait until some time in mid-week before it becomes obvious, I'll tell you now. Years ago before a game of golf Sammy Davis jnr was asked what his handicap was. He replied stoically "I'm a coloured one-eyed Jew – do I need anything else?" Peter De Villiers is like one of those supermarket trolleys with a wonky wheel, he has a mind of his own and only he can tell you what form of madness went through his head in the last 25 minutes of a match where the Springboks could have stretched their margin to at least 30 points. It is unquietly acknowledged that Dick Muir and Gary Gold are the de facto coaches of the Springbok side but during match time De Villiers is the man who makes a lot of the calls and some of the calls he made yesterday defied the logic of sporting physics. Maybe the Derby favourite needed a three-stone handicap instead of a 10-pound one. Maybe such was the Springboks superiority that he felt embarrassed and thought that they needed to have one arm tied behind their backs to even up the score. It was quite astonishing, when you look at it in black and white, what he did to his side to handicap what should have been a smooth enough close-out.
At various stages in the last 25 minutes he brought off Bakkies Botha, his enforcer, and replaced him with a donkey. He took off one of the most inspirational captains in world rugby, John Smit, and replaced him with a crash test dummy who had the same vocal capabilities. He replaced the best scrum-half in the world Fourie de Preez, the Springbok lynchpin and launch pad and replaced him with Ricky Januarie whose Super 14 form has been so poor that he should not be even close to the squad. Racial quotas I suppose. He took off Ruan Pienaar, the man he described as the Tiger Woods of rugby – he is tactically supreme and the man I consider to be the best player on the pitch – and replaced him with Morne Steyn who promptly froze.
He took off his fetcher Heinrik Brousseau who once again had skinned the Lions at breakdown and replaced him with Danie Rossouw, who at 6'7" isn't really going to be the type of player who is going to link and scrap for ball as the game becomes more fluid and breaks up in the last 20. He then moved Francois Steyn into midfield to replace the porous Adi Jacobs and to be honest I'm not sure who he put back in the full-back spot, it could have been Os du Randt brought out of retirement and to de Villiers's mind hoping to make a renaissance as an out-field player.
Have you ever been driving along in your car and suddenly your mind goes and you cannot remember where the brakes are, what a steering wheel does or where the gear stick is even located? You can't remember how to drive as you whiz along. That is what happened to the Springboks as the intelligence, tactical and spiritual spine of the team was replaced at the crucial juncture. None of them to my mind looked like they were blowing, none of them looked like they needed a rest and they were all smiling as they came off the pitch. There are two rules when it comes to winning test matches. Rule number one: if the team that is on the pitch is winning the game, don't take them off. Rule number two: don't forget rule number one.
The Lions might take comfort from a characteristically spunky fightback in the last 25 minutes and it is true to say that they found their range about 30 minutes into this game and, as some of the players interviewed afterwards stated, they will draw something from their performances in that period, but they cannot ignore what went on for the first 60. The Lions were blown off the park in the tight by a Springbok pack that was barely in second gear, they were just feeling them out and the damage was worrying to the point that it could have been the biggest mauling in test history. They lost four line-outs in the first half. Phil Vickery and Lee Mears had an incredibly uncomfortable 40-50 minutes at scrummage time. Vickery was eventually taken off in the 45th minute suffering from vertigo. Mears followed him four minutes later, after yet another overthrow at line-out time, replaced by the equally unreliable Matthew Rees but at least the scrum settled and the Lions were able to garner possession from a scrum that wasn't giving them ball on the back-foot.
If you have noticed any of the other matches that are going on in the rest of the world you will have noticed that the maul is back and one moment in the 44th minute, which will give Warren Gatland wide-eyed REM screaming nightmares, was the sight of the Springbok pack from a Matfield take advancing 20 metres up the field with a superb maul and the Lions utterly incapable of doing anything to stop it.
Red-faced embarrassment. Minutes later they got over and Brousseau dotted down. It was a stroll in the park at this stage as indeed it was for John Smit's try in the first few minutes as the Lions' defensive line failed utterly to deal with firstly Juan Smith and then John Smit's deep-line running. Tom Croft might have got over for two tries but his attempt to stop Smit was a little bit short of what you would expect from a test place blind-side.
At this stage referee Bryce Lawrence was refereeing only one side at scrum-time and at the breakdown and Ruan Pienaar was pinning the Lions back and the quality and vectoral accuracy of his tactical kicking was outstanding. The Lions were well in the game though and they will rue at least five try-scoring opportunities which came their way. Ugo Monye will not return to the test scene again on this tour. When you get over the line with the ball in your hands you have to take your chance. Luke Fitzgerald will surely replace him. Mike Phillips was also unlucky not to finish after a good break on the right hand side. Stephen Jones was poor, missed a couple of kickable penalties and just did not advance the Lions into position for long enough. At this stage Bryce Williams had changed his mind and to even up the penalty count began to ping the Springboks off the park. That helped the Lions in their comeback.
It is true that O'Driscoll and Roberts made mincemeat of the Springbok midfield. Their dexterity, obstinacy, good running lines and ability to see peripherally where their support was kept the Lions in the game all the way to the finish.
But I suspect the Springboks will make an adjustment in midfield and tighten this area up and I think that the altitude factor will give the Springboks an extra 15 per cent. They will be tighter and will play for 80 the next time.
The Lions need to make changes to the front, second and back rows and must take all their chances if they have to recover in adversity. From the Springbok perspective, the Lions will be aware they should never mistake endurance for hospitality. It'll be a huge ask.