For the third and final test with the Springboks, the Lions have largely returned to the backline that began their campaign against Japan in Murrayfield, with Conor Murray the only change.
Bundee Aki will continue his midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw while Liam Williams and Josh Adams return to the back three with Duhan van der Merwe, who retains his seat on the left.
The South African-born winger has come under fire for retaining his place on the team after a test in which he was not heavily involved and received a yellow card for a walk on Cheslin Kolbe.
It wasn’t the test series in which Van der Merwe was given a quality ball or even half a chance to break through the edge defense.
When Anthony Watson flowed into a rare Lions move from the opposite wing with a three-on-one mode that evolved into a quarter in the second test, Watson’s shaky forward pass sailed into touch a meter ahead of Hogg and Van der Merwe.
Had Henshaw looked outside to break the line in the first test just before half-time, he might have found Van der Merwe unmarked en route to a Lions test.
There were moments but they just didn’t go the Scottish international’s path.
Despite his lack of involvement in attacks, there is ground observation that he is simply the tallest man on the backline – the man is six feet tall and built like a truck.
When the Lions get into the air again, altitude is an advantage and Van der Merwe has proven extremely important to the Lions in the kick-chase game, although she has not yet appeared in the attack.
It’s not even a question, Van der Merwe almost single-handedly shot games for the visitors in the kick chase game, especially the first test.
During the course of the series, when the Lions have entered a contestable with Van der Merwe as or in the kick chase unit, the Springboks 0/11 are in the air.
That’s right, a zero Percent success rate if Van der Merwe has fought for the ball. This is just unbelievable and forces the Springboks to make huge swing errors.
The springboks were 0/6 in the first test and 0/5 in the second. The Lions could do worse than keep climbing into the sky from the left side of the field because the springboks did not catch a ball under pressure from him.
Against Van der Merwe in the air by Lions’ Kicks, Willie le Roux 0/4, Cheslin Kolbe 0/3, Handre Pollard 0/2, Jasper Wiese 0/1 and Kwagga Smith 0/1.
It’s not easy to get the ball in when you’re playing a 6’3 giant. Some of these competitions were held with Robbie Henshaw, who was also a disruptive force. Many of them resulted in penalties, crowds, and regained property for Lions.
If they overcooked the kick too much, Van der Merwe was there to manipulate the catcher after grabbing if the run was timed well.
In the first test he forced Kwagga Smith with tackles in the backcourt, a penalty and a knock-on two turnovers, in the second half momentum from Ali Price’s box kicks.
He almost caught a runaway attempt when the ball bounced back into his lap from a double air strike on Kolbe, if not after a touch from Henshaw.
All of the Lions’ achievements in the air in this series have settled on the left, where Van der Merwe hunts while Anthony Watson, on the other hand, had little positive impact. And so it just has to be selected in this game plan. It works when he’s chasing the kicks.
On the right, the Springboks got pretty much everything against Watson and others. Perhaps the Lions figured this out and put Ali Price and his left foot boxing kick back on the grid for the third Test.
When Jasper Wiese dropped the ball coldly right from kick-off, he had one eye on Van der Merwe, who attacked him as a gunner from the restart. It wasn’t even a competition, just a mental mistake.
In the second test, all three Lions three were unreliable when attempting to disperse the springbok’s own kicks. Williams and Adams were brought in to back that up, but Van der Merwe was too valuable in the chase to put it down.
Catching is one thing, securing the ball next is another. They need big bodies to be able to easily compete forwards on the ground after catch-and-tackle with springbok.
If Liam Williams takes a high ball and is tackled in the backcourt, how will Josh Adams try to get rid of a springbok forward? Adams is a decent finisher, but he’ll do his job for him in the air and on the ground.
The breakdown fights are ruthless and a powerful guy like Van der Merwe comes in handy when backs are needed to clean or hold the position.
Over the weekend, the Springboks were awarded two penalties when Stuart Hogg was tackled and Chris Harris and Robbie Henshaw were blown off the ball by Springboks who flooded the jolt.
Pollard scored one goal and luckily for the Lions missed the other. Van der Merwe offers protection against these types of penalties with the possibility of comparing him after kicks against loose strikers in the back.
The thought behind all of these selections is certainly to triple the air clearance, and some of them have to be to bolster their air defenses after the second test.
And Van der Merwe is critical to that plan, at least if the Lions lift it up in the air.
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