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South Africa drew level in the Test series after a grinding 27-9 victory that lasted more than two hours, which Foster described as a “slugfest”. In between all the stoppages, both teams relied upon an aerial bombardment to force mistakes from the opposition. Dan Biggar, the Lions fly half, passed the ball just three times.
It was not a spectacle designed to win hearts and minds and drew a typically spiky response from Foster, who is preparing for the first Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies. “I watched it between 10pm and 1am last night, it put me to sleep,” Foster said.
Foster knows full well how stifling the pressure of a Lions tour can be having been involved as an assistant coach in the drawn series in 2017. With both teams adopting very similar tactical templates, there is a premium on kicking rather than passing to induce mistakes. For Foster, the risk-reward ratio has been skewed too far in favour of the safety first option.
“The Lions series, the one we had here, the one over there, it’s become very tight, almost risk-free type of series, aren’t they?” Foster said. “Teams are almost afraid to play, they are just relying on a low-risk strategy,” Foster said.
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“So we are seeing two teams who desperately want to win a big series playing low-risk, highly effective rugby. Both of them are good at the close contact stuff, the close quarter fighting, the kick and chase, and the pressure game. Two teams playing a similar style, it’s a bit of a slugfest.
“That’s Test match rugby where stakes are high, it’s the whole risk versus reward, isn’t it? You’ve got two teams over there, who want to get up, their line speed is really strong. It’s all about stopping.
“We’ve been criticised in the past for not being able to play around and through line speed, but what you are seeing is two teams that don’t like playing against line speed either. So what do they do? They kick. That’s the answer if you are not willing to play a slightly more risky game. Everyone will choose a different way.”
At times, the rugby has almost been secondary to the actions of Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, whether acting as a water carrier on the pitch or criticising referees off it. His unprecedented hour-long attack of Nic Berry, the Australian referee from the first Test, drew fierce condemnation from Rugby Australia who said Erasmus’ comments were “unacceptable.”
The Lions too have been criticised for questioning the appointment of Marius Jonker, the South African television match official for the series. Foster says that all stakeholders have a duty to ensure that referees do not face an “impossible” job without constant criticism.
“We’ve got to support the referees, there’s no doubt about it,” Foster said. “We can have our gripes behind the scenes and that’s alright, we’ve felt like that at times, we felt a bit like that last year, but we know the guys out in the middle are trying to do the best they can and it’s a tough job.
“We have just got to make sure that we support the game and do the right thing. The media and people want us to express views, so it’s getting that balance between how much do you say and what you’re really thinking versus how much do we make sure we are not making it an impossible game to referee.”
On Erasmus’ antics as a water carrier who seemingly forgets the primary job of carrying water, Foster joked: “Well I think I might run water on Saturday, it looks like quite an effective strategy.
“Look, he is who he is, they’ve got their strategies about how they go about things, it’s certainly not ours.”
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