The British & Irish Lions scored 19 second-half points to secure a come-from-behind 22-17 victory in the first Test match over the Springboks in Cape Town on Saturday.
Gameflow: The first half of the match certainly belonged to the Springboks. The hosts made their intentions felt from the first whistle, when Lukhanyo Am put in a massive hit on opposite number Elliot Daly.
It was this physical approach that seemed to have the Lions stunned. The Boks won plenty of counter-rucks in the opening 10 minutes and had their opponents going backwards. Trevor Nyakane and Ox Nche also stood up well to the scrum challenge, while the Lions struggled to get anything from their lineout.
The Springboks dominated territory and possession and possibly could have made more out of it, but built a good platform with Handre Pollard converting all four his penalty attempts.
Pieter-Steph du Toit and Am were immense for the Boks, not allowing the Lions to get around their rush defence. Pollard and Willie le Roux, meanwhile, withstood plenty of pressure from the Lions’ up-and-unders.
The Lions did grow into the game towards the last 10 minutes of the first half, but only had a single Dan Biggar penalty to show for it, with Biggar missing his next attempt and Daly coming up short with a shot from over 50 metres.
However, there were signs that the Lions were starting to find gaps in their opponents’ defence, with Robbie Henshaw making a late linebreak which looked destined for a try, only for Le Roux to make a saving tackle for the Boks, seeing them go into the break 12-3 up.
The Lions came out fired up in the second half, showing their intent by turning down a couple of kickable penalty attempts to go for touch. This paid off as they laid a massive blow when Luke Cowan-Dickie went over from a powerful driving maul.
The Boks thought they had an immediate reply when Le Roux grounded Lukhanyo Am’s grubber. However, in another massive turnaround, TMO Marius Jonker chalked it off as he adjudged Le Roux to be ahead of Am when the kick was made.
It mattered little as Jonker was called in again to adjudicate another Springbok try, as there was a suspicion that Du Toit has knocked on in the buildup to Faf de Klerk’s score. This time, however, the call went in favour of the Boks.
The second half was a turnaround of pressure, as the Springboks were the ones conceding all the penalties. Biggar converted two of them to make it a one-point game.
The key to the swing of momentum lay with Price’s accurate box-kicking, with the chasing Lions pack putting huge pressure on the isolated Kwagga Smith. Biggar’s fourth penalty gave the Lions the lead again, going into the final quarter of the match.
The game then descended into a stop-start affair, as Hamish Watson could count himself very lucky to stay on the field after a tip-tackle on Willie le Roux, while Damian de Allende had a try correctly ruled out for a knock-on earlier in the move.
The result was all but decided when Farrell slotted a penalty to make it 19 second-half points for the Lions.
Players who shone: Handre Pollard and Willie le Roux were just about safe as houses under the Lions’ kicking game in the first half, while Le Roux made a try-saving tackle on Henshaw towards the end of the half.
Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lukhanyo Am were huge for the Springboks on defence, making plenty of key reads in the first half.
For the Lions, scrumhalf Ali Price had an outstanding match. His box-kicks in the second half put the Springboks under plenty of pressure and allowed the Lions to get good territory. Meanwhile, Maro Itoje and Tom Curry were nuisances at the breakdown. Courtney Lawes came alive for the tourists in the second half, causing havoc with some destructive carries.
Talking points: The central talking point will revolve around Hamish Watson’s tackle on Willie le Roux in the second half. The Lions flank appeared to have taken Le Roux through the 90 and dumped him, with Le Roux’s reaction saving himself from landing on his head or neck.
However, referee Nic Berry refused to review the incident further and only awarded the Springboks a penalty, which Pollard missed. It was a massive moment and the referee failed in his duty to ensure player safety as Le Roux was substituted injured shortly after.