The Scottish Mail on Sunday
A SENSATIONAL FIGHTBACK BUT WE MUST BE WARY OF BOKS BACKLASH!
WHAT a fantastic turnaround by the Lions.
At half-time, I was seriously worried. They hadn’t fired a shot in the first 40 minutes and I’ve always thought there could be no way back from a defeat in the first Test.
They came back out of the tunnel a much more focused team, kicked better and started putting phases together — and we started to notice that the Boks aren’t very disciplined and organised in defence.
Finally the Lions got big Courtney Lawes and Jack Conan running at them, and Maro Itoje was immense.
Although there were plenty of dramas in the second half, I felt confident of a Lions win from about 25 minutes in. There had been a sea change.
This Boks team might be world champions but they have had no opportunity to develop since the World Cup in 2019. They have had no Test rugby and looked vulnerable, but they also made some bad calls.
The game was still there for the winning when they pulled off Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard. Why would you do that?
I can’t claim to have been quite so confident at the break, though! After all the build-up, excitement and hype we have to say it was a very disappointing first half.
We should probably not underestimate nerves with so many Lions making their first Test starts for the team, that was certainly behind the three early penalties given away by Tom Curry.
Yes we needed to get into the Boks faces and lead the battle from No 7 and Curry was very aware of that but the margins are so small that he needed to be much more disciplined.
Pollard helped himself to two successful kicks at goal from Curry offences and then another Englishman — Elliot Daly — coughed up another penalty and another three points.
It was just hard work for the Lions. Most critics rate that starting Boks front row as inferior to their Bomb-squad replacements but the Lions got absolutely no joy out of them and after a good start the Lions line-out started to splutter.
And minds started to wander. What was Luke Cowan-Dickie doing with that panicky short crooked throw to the front which was rightly pinged? And why was he laughing about it afterwards? It was poor, naive play and cost the Lions valuable field position.
Factor in a couple of missed penalty shots and it was a pretty miserable opening 40 for the Lions, who could count themselves lucky to turn around only 12-3 down.
Straight after the break it was better, the mindset was different, and Lawes and Conan started playing a bigger role in the game.
Cowan-Dickie was able to make amends with a well-worked lineout rumble and it was game on again. The Lions were crisper and sharper.
The Boks are always dangerous, though, and in quick succession we had two huge TMO calls, one South Africa try disallowed, one allowed. Both were spot on and given all the pre-match publicity — row if you like — about the last-minute appointment of Marius Jonker as TMO the officials were coping well.
The Lions maintained their concentration, their kicking game improved, and the boot of Dan Biggar was going well with three penalties, the last of which put the Lions ahead for the first time in the game.
And then came that call on Hamish Watson, just a penalty for a clear leg lift and potentially dangerous. It looked a probable yellow, but a simple penalty was the call and Pollard then missed the kick.
I would say that’s the one call the Boks could reasonably argue against. Watson would have been saying a prayer when it went upstairs. Yellow cards have been given for less and even the occasional red.
Owen Farrell and Conor Murray are good players to have coming on to close out a game and that’s just what they did. A terrific win that should be briefly celebrated, but the job is only half done. Expect a big reaction from the Boks next week — and the Lions must match them.