British & Irish Lions beat Springboks to take 1-0 series lead
The British & Irish Lions overcame a half-time deficit to win the first Test against the Springboks at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
British & Irish Lions substitute Owen Farrell kicked a late penalty to seal a 22-17 victory over world champions South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday in a tight, bruising first Test.
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Trailing 12-3 at half-time, the British & Irish Lions employed their aerial game to good effect after the break and dominated to go one up in the three-Test series, which continues next Saturday.
Playing only a second Test since winning the Rugby World Cup in November 2019 due to coronavirus complications, South Africa battled after the turnover, made basic errors and conceded many penalties.
They did have second-half tries by fullback Willie le Roux and centre Damian de Allende disallowed, but replays showed that both decisions were correct.
Flyhalf Dan Biggar kicked four penalties for the tourists before being replaced by Farrell, who slotted the crucial penalty with two minutes remaining.
South Africa pressed into Lions’ territory at the death, but a knock-on outside the 22 robbed them of a chance to snatch victory.
The Lions try came from hooker Louis Cowan-Dickie, who atoned for some poor lineout throws by barging over off a maul four minutes into the second half.
Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard kicked four first-half penalties for a 12-3 half-time lead and the only second-half points for the hosts came from a try by scrumhalf Faf de Klerk.
Lions captain and lock Alun Wyn Jones struck a cautious note immediately after the match, saying: “We are well aware this is the first game of three.
“There was not much spoken about at half-time. We stayed in the kicking battle a bit longer and that paid dividends.
“Obviously the set piece came into the game, it was much better in the later stages. The longer the exchanges went on we got reward.”
Fellow Lions lock and man of the match Maro Itoje said: “We did not start the game with the accuracy we wanted. In the second half we upped the intensity, we upped our control.”
Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi said: “We started well in the first half. We controlled the set pieces and everything. In the second half we missed opportunities, we knocked on the ball.
“There is a lot we need to work on. We could have done better. We made mistakes. We can come back stronger, we have got another game under our belts.”
Pollard slotted penalties after 14 and 18 minutes for South Africa as they translated early territory and possession advantages into points on a cool evening in the southwestern city.
Rival playmaker Biggar was successful with his first penalty to leave the tourists trailing 6-3 midway through a first half every bit as physical as had been predicted.
Pollard, who kicked 22 points in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final triumph over England, was in superb form from the tee, banging over two more penalties to push the home team nine points in front.
The Lions lost chances to trim the deficit before half-time as Biggar pulled a penalty, Elliot Daly was short with a long-range shot and fellow centre Robbie Henshaw lost the ball forward when poised to score.
After Biggar converted the Cowan-Dickie score, a scrambled try by De Klerk gave South Africa a 17-10 advantage on 50 minutes.
But it wast the last time the Springboks scored as the aerial bombardment from the Lions took its toll and Biggar kicked three penalties and Farrell one for a deserved victory.
The first Test took place after a drama-stacked build-up that began from the moment the jet carrying the Lions touched down in Johannesburg on June 28.
They spent several weeks in the economic hub of South Africa, where hundreds of people were dying daily amid a third wave of coronavirus.
When the Lions moved south to Cape Town, looting and arson broke out in Johannesburg and Durban after former president Jacob Zuma was jailed for refusing to attend a graft inquiry.
As they settled in the Western Cape came the boost that original skipper Alun Wyn Jones had recovered from a shoulder injury and would join the tour and reclaim the captaincy from Conor Murray.
Try: Faf de Klerk
Penalties: Handre Pollard (4)
British & Irish Lions
Try: Luke Cowan-Dickie
Conversion: Dan Biggar
Penalties: Biggar (4), Owen Farrell
Players to watch
Winger Makazole Mapimpi has scored tries in six of his last eight internationals for South Africa, including their first team try in two of the most recent three. When excluding the warm-ups, Scottish winger Duhan van der Merwe has crossed the line in four of his last six internationals for Scotland or the Lions.
Six of the last nine Lions Tests have been decided by a margin of five or fewer points.
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15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse
British & Irish Lions
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland), 14. Anthony Watson (England), 13. Elliot Daly (England), 12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 11. Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), 10. Dan Biggar (Wales), 9. Ali Price (Scotland), 8. Jack Conan (Ireland), 7. Tom Curry (England), 6. Courtney Lawes (England), 5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain – Wales), 4. Maro Itoje (England), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), 1. Rory Sutherland (Scotland)
Substitutes: 16. Ken Owens (Wales), 17. Mako Vunipola (England), 18. Kyle Sinckler (England), 19. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), 20. Hamish Watson (Scotland), 21. Conor Murray (Ireland), 22. Owen Farrell (England), 23. Liam Williams (Wales)