An incredible final quarter from the tourists saw the Lions *I’m not saying ‘come roaring back’* score 19 unanswered points as they piled on the forward pressure to win impressively in Cape Town.
The opening minutes were breathless, and although it may have gone as predicted, you could only admire the near faultless execution.
Both sides kicked accurately whether to space or deep, and hit breakdowns – and each other – with the ferocity expected; Elliot Daly received a particularly warm, Springbok welcome to the ribs from Lukhanyo Am.
Stuart Hogg was a touch unfortunate to see a clearing kick just roll out of the Boks’ goal-area with Anthony Watson in hot pursuit, in what was a minor blip in an otherwise solid performance for the Scotland captain finally making his Lions’ Test day-boo after 8 years of touring.
Quality sides pounce on the slightest errors though, and once given territory, the predatorial world champions took the lead through the boot of Handre Pollard after Tom Curry conceded his second penalty in the opening stages.
Curry then led with the shoulder as he hit Faf De Klerk while the luscious-locked scrum-half put a teasing kick in behind the Lions’ defence, so Pollard struck again, only for Biggar to quickly reduce the arrears when De Allende jumped out the line too early trying to stop Price’s rapid-fire service.
A break from Siya Kolisi nearly saw the first try of the game, only for Maro Itoje to clutch onto the ball – and not for the first time in the match – at the breakdown.
Further breakdown infringements allowed Pollard to take his and the Boks’ tally to 12 by the half-hour mark, and 5mins later when the Lions had managed to win a penalty at the scrum despite initially going backwards, the usually reliable Biggar pulled his effort left.
A contentiously awarded high-tackle on Alun-Wyn Jones gave the thunder-booted Daly a shot at goal on half-way, but his effort dropped just short.
South Africa kicked clear rather than run out the last few seconds, and the Lions made one last line-break as they shipped the ball right, but Willie Le Roux did enough to prevent Robbie Henshaw from freeing Price or van der Merwe who were trying to support.
Half-time: South Africa 12 – 3 Lions
The second half got off to an encouraging start for the Lions when Curry’s thumping tackle and van der Merwe, of all people, got in over the ball to win a turnover pen.
It was the Lions’ third visit to the Bok 22, and when they had another penalty advantage, they went for the jugular rather than the sticks.
Biggar went to the side-line and then converted after Luke Cowan-Dickie had mauled his way over to reduce the deficit to two points.
South Africa were denied a breakaway try by the TMO when Le Roux was judged to have been just ahead of the kicker when chasing down Mapimpi’s kick after another error in midfield by the Lions.
In the #Spririt Of The Lions, I’ll try to be more balanced than usual, and you may have heard me saying that I admire his attacking play, but Elliot Daly was having an absolute howler, and a defensive misjudgement by him helped the Boks cross the whitewash from distance.
His slip allowed a gap down the Lions’ right, and despite Hogg doing well to initially hold Am up, De Klerk caught the loose ball as it popped out and flopped over the try-line.
South Africa’s lead on the scoreboard was then eradicated by their lead on the penalty count, as whenever the Lions entered the Bokke 22 they seemed to win a penalty.
A high tackle on AWJ brought the first one, a break from Lawes led to the second, and soon a third came from a maul. Biggar went 3 from 3 and the Lions had gone from 17-12 down, to 19-17 ahead.
Hamish Watson had come on with the score at 16-17 to the Lions, and the first penalty he had given away for nigh on 2 years nearly saw him also take a yellow card just after the Lions had taken the lead, but Pollard again missed his effort.
Owen Farrell’s 79th minute penalty took the lead out to 22-17, but Daly was beaten in the air from the restart to give the Boks one last chance to attack from around the 22.
But with fresh and strong legs on the pitch in the pack it was the 80min-man Maro Itoje who turned the ball over, Conor Murray fed the ball back to Stuart Hogg who had the honour of gleefully thumping the ball over the side-line to ring the end of the match.
Tries may have been a little hard to come by, but this was an entertaining battle with both sides showing an array of skills through pack and backs.
Of the starting Scots on show, Rory Sutherland – a late replacement for Wyn Jones – was arguably the weakest due to giving away a scrum penalty or two, but that’s more because the other Scottish representatives played so well.
Price definitely proved his worth at scrum-half; his box-kicking was consistent, and it was one of them that led to that early turnaround in the 2nd half from which Cowan-Dickie scored from.
Hogg and van der Merwe showed more than enough to silence their critics – you know the ones, the type who saw them make a defensive mistake in 2018 once and base their entire opinion on that time they slipped – being defensively sounder than most, and also excelling at the skills we know they have.
They played a major part in this win, and if anything, the final Scottish back in the Lions squad: Chris Harris, may be eyeing up a starting jersey after Elliot Daly’s harem-scarem performance.
Referee: Nic Berry (RA)SRBlog Player of the Match: As the SRB “home” team is the Lions, the award goes to Maro Itoje. His discipline has been exemplary so far on tour, and when Itoje’s good, he’s probably the best lock in the world.
SRBlog Scottish Lion of the Match: it’s wafer-thin between the lads in the 9 and 11 jerseys, but Duhan van der Merwe gets it. The first couple of times bombs were sent his way, he claimed them; when he first put Kolbe under pressure, it was Curry who had erred and put an end to the attack; he chased kicks, he won a turnover, he FENDED EBEN ETZEBETH! The lock who has to get his dumbbells custom built, got fended by a winger: but Duhan’s no ordinary winger.
Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun-Wyn Jones (c), Courtney Laws, Tom Curry, Jack Conan
Replacements: Ken Owens, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams