British & Irish tourists turn around 12-3 half-time deficit to win 22-17 in Cape Town
Lions beat Springboks in first Test
The British & Irish Lions beat South Africa 22-17 in Cape Town to take a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series.
The Lions 2021 team were on the back foot for most of the first half but they turned the tide in the second, upping the tempo and forcing the world champions to infringe.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones described it as “tasty” in terms of the physicality but once the Lions were able to build into multi-phase play the Springboks struggled to cope.
So it’s the tourists who will take the advantage into the second Test next Saturday in Cape Town – but the first half demonstrated just how big a challenge the Boks pose.
South Africa controlled the opening 40, preventing the Lions from building momentum and taking advantage of poor discipline from the tourists. They were able to dominate territory and, when in kickable positions, Handré Pollard took the points.
There were a couple of standout moments from Maro Itoje – a turnover on Willie le Roux and winning a penalty on the line as Siya Kolisi burst forward from a maul – but it was the hosts who led 12-3 lead at the break.
The last five minutes of that first half told its own story as the Boks started to creak discipline-wise but the Lions couldn’t take advantage.
First came a scrum penalty – the first time the tourists had got any rewards from that set-piece – but Dan Biggar missed the posts.
Then the TMO came in to highlight a Bongi Mbonambi high tackle on Jones on halfway. Elliot Daly, with his long-range boot, stepped up but he was short with his kick.
And just before the clock hit 40, Robbie Henshaw broke through the South Africa defence and into the 22 but, with the ball in one hand, he lost possession as he was tackled by le Roux.
If the Lions were going to win they would need to channel the spirit of the 1989 tourists to overcome the half-time deficit – and they didn’t have to wait long to make the crucial breakthrough at the start of the second half. They kicked to touch from an early penalty, then did the same again when the Boks were pinged for a high tackle.
This gave the Lions a five-metre lineout, Courtney Lawes won it at the back and the tourists set the maul, powered through the Boks defence and Luke Cowan-Dickie scored.
Related: Luke Cowan-Dickie scores first try of Lions series
It looked like the Boks had hit back immediately when le Roux beat the chasing Lions defenders to a Lukhanyo Am kick, but the Boks full-back was ruled to be in front of the kicker by the TMO.
South Africa did get their try on the 50th minute, though. A loose pass appeared to put the Boks under pressure but Pieter-Steph du Toit cleared up excellently and released Makazole Mapimpi. The wing kicked ahead off the outside of his boot, du Toit couldn’t collect it but Mapimpi got the ball and when he was held up over the line he was able to get the ball to Faf de Klerk and the scrum-half grounded.
The Boks’ ill-discipline then allowed the Lions to take the lead for the first time as Biggar slotted three successive penalties.
Pollard did have an opportunity to put the Boks back in front when Hamish Watson tipped le Roux in the tackle – the Lions back-row was perhaps lucky not be sin-binned – but he couldn’t find the target.
It was almost a role reversal in the second half as the Lions dominated territory and, as they were able to build phases, they forced the Boks to concede penalties. Courtney Lawes was another standout for the tourists, with and without the ball.
Related: Will Cape Town pitch hold up for rest of Lions series?
Owen Farrell put the Lions 22-17 ahead with 90 seconds to go, the Boks then won the restart. This would be tense until the final whistle, but the Lions defended well and eventually managed to get possession, with Stuart Hogg booting the ball into touch.
And who was it who got the vital turnover? Itoje.
The lock said afterwards that the Lions had the “mental fortitude” to see it through after improving their error count in the second half. They will need that again next week.
Game one to the Lions. Two Tests to play.
Related: Warren Gatland – “Next week will be even tougher”
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