British & Irish Lions

Stunning British Lions comeback floors Springboks in tense yet epic series opener

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Faf de Klerk of the Springboks tackles Dan Bigger of the Lions (Gallo)
Faf de Klerk of the Springboks tackles Dan Bigger of the Lions (Gallo)

It was tense, dramatic and every bit as close as most predicted it would be, but in the end the British & Irish Lions emerged as 22-17 victors over the Springboks in the first of three Tests at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday. 

The Springboks were calm and clinical in the first 40 minutes, dominating the tourists in all facets to open up a 12-3 lead at the interval, but the Lions were a different team in the second period as they wrestled their way back into the contest. 

AS IT HAPPENED | Springboks 17-22 British & Irish Lions, 1st Test

A disallowed Willie le Roux try in the second half - he was ruled offside by South African TMO Marius Jonker following Makazole Mapimpi's kick ahead - will no doubt be one of the numerous major talking points in the days ahead. 

The Boks will know, though, that as good as they were in the first half, they were outplayed in the second as ill-discipline and poor execution blighted their game. 

That was all the invitation the Lions needed, and while the Boks were struggling, the tourists were improving as the match drew on. 

There was one try each - Faf de Klerk for the Boks and Luke Cowan-Dickie for the visitors - while both flyhalves were instrumental.

That the match was played in front of empty, hollow stands in no way detracted from the quality of the product, with the enormity of the occasion painted on the faces of the players who walked out to do battle onto the Cape Town Stadium turf. 

The rugby world had been waiting for this clash with mouthwatering anticipation, particularly in South Africa, where the world champion Springboks had played just one Test match since winning the World Cup on 2 November 2019. 

The build-up was characterised by mind games, media speculation and predictions, but not even the bookmakers were able to settle on a clear favourite by the time Dan Biggar kicked the series off at just after 18:00. 

That moment should have been accompanied by a roar of 55 000 fans at the venue, but social media showed that South Africans were tuned in at home and up for this. 

WATCH | Lukhanyo Am's MONSTER HIT on Elliot Daly!

The opening stages saw both sides favouring the boot, looking for territorial dominance. 

The Lions launched an early and dangerous bomb at right wing Cheslin Kolbe for opposite wing Duhan van der Merwe to chase, but they were offsides and the Boks escaped having been given a taste of what was to come. 

Then, No 13 Lukhanyo Am absolutely smashed his opposite number Elliot Daly in midfield with a hit that went a long way towards quelling any fears that the Boks would be undercooked.

They hit the ground running with familiar physicality - particularly on defence - that was prominent early on. 

The Lions had suffered a setback in the hours leading up to kick-off with prop Wyn Jones ruled out with a shoulder injury as Rory Sutherland replaced him, and it was the Boks who took the upper hand in the first and second scrums of the game. 

The set piece was always going to be key, and the hosts had theirs operating clinically.

Handre Pollard kicked the first points of the series on 14 minutes after the Lions were penalised for not rolling away, and the Boks were 6-0 up just four minutes later after Tom Curry was penalised for an illegal tackle.

South Africa would have been pleased with that reward for their dominance, but the lead was cut down after Damian de Allende ventured offsides and was punished by a Biggar penalty to make it 6-3 after 20 minutes. 

The territorial battle continued, but the Boks were capable in the air and accurate with their contestables, which saw them playing in the right areas of the park. 

The Lions, meanwhile, gave away another senseless penalty at the breakdown, with Pollard knocking it over from close range to make it 9-3.

As the half progressed, the Boks were just that much better in seemingly all departments, and when Trevor Nyakane won a turnover penalty on the ground on the half-hour mark, Pollard slotted the toughest of his first four kicks from 45m to put his side 12-3 up. 

The Lions had a mountain to climb on the scoreboard, but their biggest issue up until that point was that they had barely played any rugby in the South African half.

They won a scrum penalty on 35 minutes that should have resulted in three valuable points, but Biggar surprisingly pulled his effort from a position he would have been expected to convert from nine times out of 10. 

Daly then lined up a penalty from around 55m following a Bongi Mbonambi high tackle but his effort fell just short. 

The Lions nearly scored the first try of the game on the stroke of half-time when Robbie Henshaw made the break before losing the ball forward in the tackle in the Bok 22m area.

The comeback

The Lions came out a different side in the second half. 

Just 30 seconds after the restart, they made their own statement of intent when they won a penalty on the ground but turned down the points to set up an attacking lineout instead. 

Another penalty closer to the Bok line was used to set up another lineout, and the resulting rolling maul saw hooker Cowan-Dickie go over for the first try of the series. 

Biggar converted, and the Springbok lead was down to just two points at 12-10.

The came Le Roux's disallowed try, after TMO Jonker ruled that he was in front of Am's kick ahead. 

The Boks eventually had their try just minutes later. 

Jonker, again, was called into action - this time to determine whether or not Pieter-Steph du Toit had knocked the ball forward when he had attempted to gather a kick ahead from Mapimpi. 

He hadn't, and Mapimpi would go on to gather his own kick before he was held up over the line. The ball then bizarrely went backwards from Mapimpi, where Faf de Klerk was on hand to finish off the messiest of scores. 

Pollard missed the conversion, but the Boks went 17-10 up. 

The Lions, though, were a team transformed and they continued to throw themselves forwards with momentum.  

They were rewarded with back-to-back penalties that Biggar slotted, and as the Boks started showing their first signs of ill-discipline and poor execution, the Lions had narrowed the contest to 17-16 after 55 minutes and the tightest of finishes was on the cards.  

The visitors hit the front for the first time in the 63rd minute through another Biggar penalty after the Boks infringed at a rolling maul.

Pollard then had a tough kick - out left and from 45m - to reclaim the lead for the Boks, but he pulled it left. 

When substitute Owen Farrell kicked a penalty on 78 minutes, the Lions had a 22-17 lead, and the Boks were buried. 


South Africa 17 (12)

Try: Faf de Klerk

Penalties: Handre Pollard (4)

British Lions 22 (3)

Try: Luke Cowan-Dickie

Conversion: Dan Biggar

Penalties: Biggar (4), Owen Farrell


South Africa

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 (captain), 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 and 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)

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