By Michael Cantillon
The Lions came from nine points down to beat South Africa in Cape Town and go 1-0 up in their three-Test series
The British and Irish Lions mounted a brilliant second-half comeback to beat South Africa 22-17 and go 1-0 up in the three-Test series.
South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard kicked four first-half penalties, with Dan Biggar adding one effort and missing another to leave the half-time score 12-3 to the Springboks.
The Lions were much improved in the second half, though, as a Luke Cowan-Dickie try and three Biggar penalties cancelled out a Faf de Klerk South Africa try for the tourists to lead 19-17.
A potential late Damian de Allende try for the Boks was ruled out after a TMO review found Cheslin Kolbe had knocked a ball on while competing in the air, earlier in the play.
Owen Farrell then added a further penalty with two minutes left to stretch the lead to five points, from which a tiring Springboks side could not recover.
Before kick-off, Wales loosehead prop Wyn Jones was a late withdrawal to the Lions’ starting XV due to a shoulder injury, with Scotland’s Rory Sutherland coming in.
The Springboks hit the front via a Pollard penalty in the 14th minute, after Lions flanker Tom Curry was pinned into a ruck and failed to roll away.
The lead was doubled moments later by Pollard’s boot again when South African TMO Marius Jonker brought a late Curry hit on Springbok scrum-half De Klerk to referee Nic Berry’s attention.
The Lions reduced the deficit on 20 minutes when Biggar struck over his first penalty effort from 40 metres out after the Boks were penalised for offside.
Lions second row Maro Itoje forced a monumental turnover shortly after, metres from his own line after a Siya Kolisi break, but hooker Cowan-Dickie overthrew the next lineout, placing the tourists under pressure again.
Pollard registered his third penalty of the day when referee Berry deduced centre Elliot Daly – harshly – to have played the ball off feet just outside the Lions 22.
Cowan-Dickie lost his second lineout soon after for a crooked throw, before the referee’s whistle blew against the Lions again as Boks tighthead Trevor Nyakane got over the ball to force a breakdown decision, which Pollard kicked from distance for a 12-3 lead.
Lions tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong won a powerful scrum penalty for the Lions five minutes from the break, handing Biggar a chance narrow the gap back to six points, but the fly-half skewed his kick wide.
A high tackle by South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi on Alun Wyn Jones handed Daly a 55 metre penalty effort, but again the kick was missed by the Lions as it dropped short.
Centre Robbie Henshaw made an incisive break in the final moments of the first half, sprinting into the South Africa 22, but a crucial tackle by Willie le Roux forced a knock on.
Into the second half, the Lions forced an early penalty and, having turned down a potential shot at goal for a five-metre lineout, Cowan-Dickie was at the back of a strong rolling maul to score the opening try of the Test.
Biggar converted to bring the game to 12-10, before South Africa had a Le Roux try ruled out after a TMO review found the Bok full-back to be in front of Lukanyo Am’s kick and so offside.
Just moments later, De Klerk did have South Africa’s first try after flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit and wing Makazole Mapimpi counter-attacked down the left and exposed a huge Lions hole on the flank.
Pollard’s conversion was missed, however, leaving the Springboks with a seven-point lead.
Springboks No 8 Kwagga Smith was soon penalised for stripping the ball in the tackle, which Biggar kicked over to reduce the score to 17-14.
And in the 56th minute, South Africa’s lead was down to a single point when Biggar bisected the uprights after another offside call against the hosts.
In the 63rd minute, the Lions hit the front for the first time in the Test when Biggar struck over a superb penalty on the angle after the Springboks went in at the side of a maul.
From the restart, Lions replacement Hamish Watson was pinged when he lifted Le Roux above the horizontal – and fortunate to avoid a yellow card – but Pollard hooked the difficult effort from the tee wide.
The Lions almost played themselves out of the lead with eight minutes left as a spilled ball in their own 22 saw Am hack on and De Allende slide over. On TMO review, however, it was found wing Kolbe had knocked on the ball in the air near the touchline before the score.
With barely two minutes left of the Test, Farrell then stretched the Lions lead to five points off the tee after yet another Springboks transgression at the maul.
Having reclaimed the restart, the Boks went through over 10 phases late on, but the Lions defence was flawless before Itoje stripped the ball to end the contest.
Warren Gatland says the first half between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa was incredibly physical but was delighted his side improved to claim the first Test of the series.
Following the British and Irish Lions’ first Test win over South Africa, Maro Itoje says that these moments don’t come around often and it’s a privilege to wear the jersey.
Courtney Lawes says the exciting thing about this British and Irish Lions team is that they know they’ve got more to give following their first Test win over South Africa.
Alun Wyn Jones says that the British and Irish Lions’ first Test win over South Africa is special but everyone knows that there are still two games left.
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