Former England scrum-half Matt Dawson has told us that the Lions must produce “the game of their lives” to beat South Africa and seal a series win on Saturday, but feels it would go down as “one of the greatest Lions Test series wins of all time” if they can achieve the feat.

The Lions head into the third and final Test against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday with the series tied at 1-1 after the world champions came from behind to level proceedings with victory last week.

Dawson believes the ascendancy is now with South Africa after that win and that the Lions will need to turn in something special this weekend if they are to secure a first series triumph over the nation in 24 years.

“It’s advantage South Africa now given the way the series has turned out,” Dawson said. “And momentum is in truckloads behind South Africa – they’re up to speed, up to fitness, they’ve got themselves back from 1-0 down. They’re world champions, they’ve played enormous games, their chests are out and they’re pumping. And they’re a hugely dangerous animal when they have that, so the Lions are going to have to have the game of their lives on Saturday.

“If the Lions win this match and win this series from this position, it will quite easily be one of the greatest Lions Test series wins of all time. I wouldn’t have said it was the best rugby of all time, but digging themselves out of it to win a Test series from where they’ve been – losing to South Africa ‘A’, winning the first Test, getting battered in the second Test and then coming back and winning the third… It’s the stuff of the ’89 Lions triumph or those types of victories where you’re going to remember all the key moments from the series.”

Dawson believes the fact that captain Alun Wyn Jones is 35 and could be approaching his final Lions match will provide additional inspiration for the squad.

“I think the whole Alun Wyn Jones story will be part of the Lions’ motivation ahead of the game – it’s probably going to be his last match as a Lion,” Dawson said. “He’s not going to publicly announce it, but does he sit there in the dressing room beforehand and say, ‘Boys, this is it. It’s my last game. I’ve done this and I’ve done that, but this is it. I have nothing left to give. What I’ve given to this shirt, I’m asking you to do the same. You guys are going to have opportunities to do it again, but this is it for me’. Because of what Alun Wyn Jones has experienced and how much he’s regarded and respected, that’s going to put a few things into perspective for the squad.

“This is about legacy, the coaches have got to somehow really prey on that legacy there is to win a Lions series, and go back to Australia in 2013, go back to South Africa in 1997, or even go back to losing to South Africa in 2009 – there’s payback from 12 years ago and they are in a position to do that.

“I think the reflection on what has been missed over the years and the opportunity that you get as a Lions player is a huge motivator. I don’t think there’s going to be a huge amount of shouting and screaming in the dressing room beforehand, just a few motivational videos, a few pep talks and, as you can see by Warren Gatland’s selection for Saturday, it’s time for the Lions to really throw northern hemisphere rugby at South Africa and see what their response is.”

As for the players that Dawson believes need to step up if the Lions are to prove successful this weekend, he picked out Tom Curry.

“The forwards generally need to have a good game if the Lions are to win,” he said. “Someone like Tom Curry, we’ve spoken a lot about him over the last couple of years, but I don’t think we’ve seen him perform for the Lions yet like we have done in an England jersey when he’s had those epic games. If he starts pinching some ball, being a nuisance and carries, and plays like the world-class player he is, he could be the difference, particularly with Steph du Toit out of the way. He’s going to be crucial for the Lions on Saturday.”

Dawson, who was part of the Lions squad that won the series in South Africa in 1997, feels this year’s squad have the ability to make history once again.

“I don’t see a side running away with it like South Africa did last week,” Dawson said. “Certainly, if the Lions are going to win it, they’ve got to be in the game with 65-70 minutes on the clock. Those are the series-winning minutes right there, those last 10-15 minutes. If the Lions are in it, they don’t need to be ahead, but if they’re still in the game and are able to apply pressure then I think they have the squad to win this. If they’re chasing the game significantly, if they’re six, seven, eight points behind, that last 10 minutes is going to be a monumental task, so they do still need to be in the game. But I do believe they have the squad to win.”

Dawson was also part of the 2001 Lions squad that lost to Australia 2-1 after taking a 1-0 lead in the series, though he’s hopeful of not seeing a repeat result this time around against South Africa.

“We had one bad half, we were in complete control of that second Test in Melbourne up to half-time, so let’s discount that one half,” he said. “But what the Lions have this time round is they have incredible strength in depth to choose from. We were patched up going out there, pulling players from corporate hospitality tours in the squad! It was different times. There is a huge amount for the Lions to be incredibly positive about and encouraged by here. They’ve got the players, they’ve got the strategy – can they implement that strategy under enormous pressure and make the right calls at the right time?

“As ultimately in 2001, we were still in the game until the very end and with a couple of right or wrong decisions, we lost our opportunity to win the Test match. These series often come down to one or two decisions under enormous pressure. The Lions of 2021 have an opportunity to win this series, but when it comes down to 70-75 minutes, they need to make sure those decisions that they would have made in minute one are just as clear as they are in minute 75. Which is why the bench will be incredibly important.”

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