South Africa 17 British and Irish Lions 22
THE British and Irish Lions got their series against world champions South Africa off to a flying start thanks to a wonderful second-half display in the First Test in Cape Town.
If the Lions were under any illusions as to the enormity of the task they faced they would have gotten a wake-up call when Lukhanyo Am made a bone shuddering hit on his opposite number Elliott Daly in the third minute.
The Springboks got the first scoring opportunity in the 14th minute, and out-half Handre Pollard duly split the Lions' posts from 35m to open the scoring.
And just three minutes later he got a similar chance, as Lions openside Tom Curry was pinned for a late hit on Faf de Klerk, to give the Boks a 6-0 head start.
In the 20th minute, the Lions won a penalty of their own 40m out and Welsh out-half Dan Biggar steadied Lions' nerves with a well-drilled effort to get them up and running.
The home side continued to dominate territory and possession, forcing the Lions into conceding more penalties, which allowed Pollard to keep chipping away on the scoreboard with further penalties in the 26th and 30th minutes.
Just when it looked like neither number 10 could miss Biggar became the first to blink when he badly hooked his 36th-minute effort, and Elliott Daly attempted one from the halfway line three minutes later but landed his effort short.
Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw made a brilliant break right on half time but knocked on when attempting to give the decisive pass and the Boks were let off the hook, as they deservedly led 12-3 at the break.
You sensed that the Lions needed something to springboard their assault on the Springboks and they turned down a kickable penalty soon after the restart and went for the corner, and were rewarded when hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie barrelled over from the resulting maul in the 43rd minute, and suddenly we had a Test match.
South Africa went straight down the pitch and thought they had scored a wonderful try after Willie le Roux grounded Am’s kick through, but, almost to script, South African TMO Marius Jonker disallowed the try as he deemed the full-back to have been ahead of the kicker.
The TMO was involved again in the 50th minute, but this time he awarded the decision in the Springbok’s favour. Makazole Mapimpi’s kick through was completely missed by Pieter-Steph du Toit, so there was no knock-on, and when Mapimpi gathered and released to de Klerk the diminutive scrum-half was able to dot down for the try.
Biggar then landed a penalty in the 53rd minute to reduce arrears to 17-13 and when further South African indiscipline gave Biggar another opportunity three minutes later it was suddenly a one-point game.
In the 62nd minute, South Africa conceded their seventh penalty of the second half, with the blast of Nic Berry’s whistle allowing Biggar the opportunity to give the Lions the lead for the first time.
Scotland’s Hamish Watson then was penalised in the 64th minute, but the Lions got a huge let-off as Pollard pulled his 45m penalty attempt just wide.
The Lions used another of their nine lives in the 71st minute when Munster’s Damian de Allende looked to have dived in for the winning score, only for the try to also be disallowed by the TMO for an earlier knock-on by Cheslin Kolbe in an aerial exchange.
England’s Owen Farrell put the Lions out of kicking range with a 78th-minute penalty and they were able to survive one final scare to secure victory in what was an absorbing Test.