David Corkery: Lions will be ready for a backlash from South Africa

Securing a win in the first test sets up Warren Gatland's side to win the series
David Corkery: Lions will be ready for a backlash from South Africa

The British & Irish Lions team huddle after the win over South Africa, which lays down a marker for the series. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

ADVANTAGE Warren Gatland.

Not exactly the fireworks we had all expected but, in a three-test series, to win the first round is a massive advantage to carry forward and Gatland’s British and Irish Lions will be licking their lips in anticipation ahead of next week’s game.

Perhaps it was a case that neither side wanted to be the first to be made an example of by the referee but, the boot and bollock that we had all anticipated never materialised and as rugby matches go, the first 40 minutes must go down as one the dourest ever played out in a South Africa-Lions series.

I would also question the somewhat mundane and sleep-inducing commentary of the Sky reporters Will Greenwood and Alex Payne. Between them they would make a black and white paint drying competition seem exhilarating. 

I realise the absence of supporters is a big atmosphere suppressant but surely, they could bring some kind of excitement to an occasion that only transpires once every four years?

Apart from one or two big defensive hits by the Springbok centres, the normal arrogant and chest-beating South African forwards were nowhere to be seen. 

The lack of ambition and risk-taking by both sides gestured the importance of winning this series but, in a sport where every attempt is being made to make it a better spectacle, it just pains me to see scrum- and fly-halves kicking the ball as high as possible and hoping that their chasers might win it back when it descends from the dizzy heights.

Some might refer to this kind of rugby as a form of tactical kick tennis but, I would say it's more like a kind of sporting lottery where possession is gained or regained by chance rather than endeavour.

In a game that completely flipped after half time it was the hosts that dominated the first half, and the Lions had no answer to their regimental style of play.

Luke Cowan-Dickie of the British & Irish Lions and Kwagga Smith of South Africa battling hard.
Luke Cowan-Dickie of the British & Irish Lions and Kwagga Smith of South Africa battling hard.

There was no rocket science as to how Rassie Erasmus had instructed his playmakers to guide their fellow players around the park and all they did was either crash the ball up via Lukhanyo Am or Munster’s impressive Damian de Allende, or kick the ball out of their own half and hope that the Lions would kick the ball to touch so they could regain it from the ensuing line-out.

For the life of me, I just couldn’t work out why the world’s most exciting and lethal try scorer was completely ignored by Erasmus in his game plan.

Handre Pollard, who was winning his 50th cap for the Boks, was on the money with his place kicking and ensured that the Lions first half ill-discipline was punished appropriately by slotting four penalties to the visitors one, thus giving his side a nine-point cushion as they headed for the dressing rooms.

As soon as the second half commenced the Lions looked by far the better side and they seemed to have realised that their discipline was killing them, especially when they didn’t have the ball.

British & Irish Lions' Owen Farrell takes a kick. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
British & Irish Lions' Owen Farrell takes a kick. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Maro Itoje was immense in all he did, and his English teammate Courtney Lawes was equally impressive. The Lions' fitness levels also started to surpass that of the Boks and even though de Allende was denied what seemed to be a perfect try, the Lions deserved their win.

Of the three Irish lads who started, it was Jack Conan that shone the brightest. Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw did very little wrong but, Conan’s work ethic and stability were evident throughout the tie.

The use of the bench was always going to play a big part in this game and when Ken Owens, Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler took up residency in the front row, the scrum dominance allowed for the Lions to comfortably see out the closing stages.

Knowing Gatland, who likes to throw the odd cat amongst the pigeons, do not be surprised to see some starting changes for next week’s game.

I would think that hooker Owens might replace Luke Cowan-Dickie, Hamish Watson might get the nod over Tom Curry and Bundee Aki might be afforded the opportunity to restrain Damian de Allende who was South Africa’s best player by a long way.

South Africa will be gutted by this loss and I would expect some kind of a backlash as a result.

The big question is: have they got the firepower and intelligence to win next Saturday and bring about a third test decider in two weeks?

After what I saw on Saturday, I’m not too sure!

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