The Scottish Mail on Sunday
FIRST BLOOD TO LIONS
Gatland hails his comeback kings for Test triumph
WARREN GATLAND last night heaped praise on his Lions after they came roaring back to stun South Africa and win the opening Test match in Cape Town.
Trailing 12-3 at half-time, the tourists produced a rousing fightback against the world champions to seize a 1-0 lead and claim first blood in the three-match series.
Luke Cowan-Dickie got the vital try early in the second half, with Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell kicking the remainder of the points as the Lions held their nerve.
Maro Itoje was a colossus and named man of the match, albeit Courtney Lawes and Ali Price may not have been far behind.
Believing the best may be yet to come, the head coach said: ‘The message at half-time was that we’re still in the arm wrestle.
‘Let’s keep our patience and we will get chances. Don’t force things. In that second half, we got
stronger and stronger and got ourselves back into the game, but it was a really tough and tight Test match that could have gone either way.
‘We came from behind and finished really strongly. I thought the last few minutes we were excellent.
‘You look at it for both teams and know that it was a bounce of the ball, it could have gone either way.
‘There were a couple of big calls as well. If they had been different it might well have affected the result.
‘We were happy with the way we defended, we didn’t think they created a lot of attacking opportunities.’
Scotland scrum-half Price helped set the tone for the comeback with some excellent box-kicks early in the second half, clearly getting the better of Springbok star Faf de Klerk.
In what had been a tense and scrappy encounter in the opening 40 minutes, Gatland’s side looked increasingly dominant as the match wore on.
The tight decisions noted by Gatland saw two tries disallowed for the Boks.
Hamish Watson, the Lions and Scotland flanker, was also fortunate not to be shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle in the second half.
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber was diplomatic afterwards when he was asked about the TMO’s decision to rule out Willie le Roux’s try.
He said: ‘I thought it was very tight. As soon as we saw that the try was given we, as coaches, thought it was going to be extremely tight.
‘But I completely agree with and trust the decision they made. That is their profession, that is what they are good at.
‘It could have gone both ways in my opinion, but I 100-per-cent agree with the TMO decision. ‘Sometimes those inches go for you and you score a brilliant try from a counter-attack and sometimes it goes against you.’ Warning of a potential Boks backlash in next week’s second Test, Gatland added: ‘They’ll be hurt from this because they’re an incredibly proud nation and world champions.
‘Next week will be even bigger and even tougher I would expect. ‘From our point of view you win that first one and you know that, no matter what happens, you’re going to the last weekend of the series. That in itself keeps everyone engaged and really interested in it.
‘For us, we feel like there’s an awful lot more in us, too. From a conditioning point of view, it looks like we’re getting stronger and stronger and are able to keep the intensity and the pace going for the whole 80 minutes.’