It was a bad night for the Lions and a bad night for rugby. After a Test of patience which was all spills and no thrills, this spiteful series is poised for a tense climax.
Where to start? Well, the Lions tried to beat the Springboks at their own game and played right into the hands of the world champions. The plan backfired, to a spectacular extent. An urgent rethink is required or this is not going to end well for the tourists.
While the British and Irish players will be given a few days off, Warren Gatland and his assistants should be busy plotting an overhaul of their team and tactics.
The Lions’ hopes of sealing a famous Test series triumph were buried under an aerial onslaught from South Africa
The head coach has made some brave selections in the past, notably dropping Brian O’Driscoll for the final Test against Australia in 2013, but this week he will need to be braver than ever before.
The momentum is with the Springboks after the 27-9 victory. The Lions now have to go for broke. They cannot die wondering. The non-performance on Saturday amounted to a betrayal of so much talent and that cannot happen again.
If they are going to fail here, as has happened so often in the past, at least fail having fired some shots. The Lions cannot just set their stall out to ‘stay in the fight’, as they did last time. That cannot be the extent of their ambition.
Major surgery is in order, firstly in personnel terms. If Wyn Jones is available, he should start at loosehead prop, as a solid scrummager who can also offer strong breakdown presence. On the latter basis, Tadhg Beirne should be considered at blindside and Jamie George would add clout and pedigree at hooker.
The British and Irish Lions came off second best against a fearsome South Africa in a fractious second Test in Cape Town
The back-three calamities cannot be overlooked. Liam Williams must start at full-back, as the supreme aerial bomb defuser and counter-attacking runner, while Josh Adams deserves to show he can transfer his early-tour scoring streak into a series where the Lions are crying out for cutting edge. He should have been in over Duhan van der Merwe in the first place.
Crucially, the Lions are crying out for a daring creative hub to negate the Boks’ blitz defence and create try-scoring chances. Harsh as it would be to demote Dan Biggar for following orders, Gatland should gamble with Finn Russell, in alliance with his Scotland half-back partner Ali Price.
The visitors need to generate tempo and threaten out wide. These are the men to make that happen. It may go wrong, there are no guarantees, but it may be a masterstroke.
It is hard to imagine that Gregor Townsend, Gatland’s senior assistant, will be content with the second Test gameplan. As attack coach, he must yearn to see the team attack. Instead, it was a case of kick and scramble, kick and hope, repeat to fade.
South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe (No 14) was lucky to escape a red for taking out scrum-half Conor Murray (top) in the air
It was sad and uncomfortable to watch and it must have been even more sad and uncomfortable to participate in.
These Lions need a proper platform and that is why the pack cannot be left untouched. They were holding their own until half-time and then were overwhelmed. The lineout became a mess, the scrum was under siege, the Boks ruled the breakdown and started wreaking havoc with their driving maul.
It was a rout by the end, in all areas. Gatland cannot just hope that the hosts will be emotionally spent. They are gaining match hardness and cohesion.
For the bigger picture — for the health of the sport — events at the empty Cape Town Stadium were deeply worrying. Is this what Test rugby has become? Is this the inevitable consequence of sky-high stakes and tension?
It was an absolutely dire, turgid grind. After a club season of tactical positivity, this was a miserable comedown.
This series has coincided with the enthralling Olympic Sevens in Tokyo and the contrast is brutal.
Those who would defend the primacy of the 15-a-side game must know that those who are dipping a toe into this water will decide that they do not want to take the plunge. Coaches who peddle the win-at-all-costs mantra can keep peddling it until everyone has left and turned the lights off.
Whatever the opposite of an advert is, this was it. All bar die-hards would not open the curtains to watch the marathon first half if it was played in their garden.
A cherished highlight in the oval-ball calendar is putting people off, rather than drawing them in.
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi (second left) did superbly well to prevent a try from Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw (bottom)
Every step of the way, the second Test was a trial by TMO, a consequence of Rassie Erasmus’ outrageous commentary on social media last week. World Rugby’s lack of action so far is a pathetic indictment of weak-willed governance.
The man accused officials of lacking integrity and torched the sacred core values of the game but was free to carry on acting as a water boy, offering on-field tips. It was a farcical spectacle.
The Lions have every right to feel aggrieved about the presence of South Africa’s director of rugby. They can also feel aggrieved about Cheslin Kolbe escaping a red card and Faf de Klerk evading a yellow.
But they will know deep down, amid any simmering injustice, that they were not beaten by the referee, they were beaten by the better team. Well beaten.
If it is another arm-wrestle and aerial duel in five days’ time, there is only going to be one winner and it will not be the Lions.
So Gatland must embrace the need for change. He must be brave, as he has been before. If the Lions go for broke, it might not work, but it is their best chance to save themselves and perhaps the sport from more reputational damage which it may struggle to recover from.
The Lions went in three up at half-time after Dan Biggar (third right) made it 9-6 with this kick, with two from Handre Pollard
Springbok fly-half Pollard then floated a fine chip over the top for wing Makazole Mapimpi, who finished superbly for 11-9
Lukhanyo Am then extended the lead with this controversial try – ex-ref Nigel Owens saying he was not in control of the ball
Stand-off Pollard then kicked three late penalties to rub salt in Lions wounds as the match finished 27-9 to the Springboks