LION REVIEWS: Courtney Lawes is never impressed, but Maro Itoje leads him to Man of the Match

The Lions produced an excellent second half performance to overcome a nine-point deficit at half-time to win the first Test against South Africa 22-17.

Handre Pollard’s boot took advantage of Warren Gatland’s ill-discipline early on, but Luke Cowan-Dickie scored the first try of the game just four minutes after the break.

Faf de Klerk gave the hosts the lead again, but the kicking of Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell was enough to hold their side for a huge win.

Sportsmails Mike Brown judged the players as the Lions drew the first blood in the series.

The Lions drew first blood in the series with a combative 22-17 opener win against South Africa

The Boks took control early on due to Lions ill-discipline, but the response in the second half was strong

The Boks took control early on due to Lions ill-discipline, but the response in the second half was strong

JACQUES NIENABER – 6.5

South Africa controlled the game in the first half but then got tired in the second, which could become a theme after their Covid woes. Their centers and wingers are dangerous so they need to get them on the ball more, especially Cheslin Kolbe.

15 WILLIE LE ROX – 7

Brilliant chemistry with Pollard, with the skills of a No. 10, working as a second distributor and extra eyes and ears to the flying half, but with the speed and stride of an outsider. Great last-ditch tackle on Henshaw before half-time. Bad luck that his attempt was rejected.

14 CHESLIN KOLBE – 6

Good in the air, especially as he is only six feet tall – but he didn’t touch the ball for an hour, so he was well shut out by the Lions. None of the usual flashes, but chased like crazy and did the job well.

13 MY LIGHT – 6

A crushing blow to Daly in the first half set the tone, but was stifled on offense – he made just one carry and also made just two-thirds of his tackles on defense.

Lukhanyo Am was smothered on the attack but set the tone early on with a huge hit on Elliot Daly

Lukhanyo Am was smothered on the attack but set the tone early on with a huge hit on Elliot Daly

12 DAMIAN DE ALLENDE – 6.5

He and de Allende know each other inside out as one of the veteran combinations on the Boxing team – in stark contrast to the unknown Lions who had barely played together. Worn 13 times, so 38 powerful meters.

11 PIPES PAPERS – 6

He and Kolbe were very quiet – Mapimpi only made one carry – but he hit a smart and well executed kick down the line and de Klerk’s try.

10 HANDRE COLLAR – 6.5

Plays in the form of the Saracens, of squeezing life out of teams. Hit all his goals and managed the game well but then got a cramp and was forced out – possibly lacking match fitness after being injured for a year before contracting Covid recently.

9 FAF THE Clerk – 7

Kicked so well to find space in the backfield and also scored a try. We used to get our replacement scrum half to wear a blonde wig to replicate Faf in England for the games in South Africa! The Lions will likely want to focus more on him in the second Test.

Faf de Klerk's kicking was impressive the whole time - the Lions should focus more on him next time

Faf de Klerk’s kicking was impressive the whole time – the Lions should focus more on him next time

1 OS WATCH – 8

Huge shoes to fill after The Beast Tendai Mtawarira retired, but had a great first half against Furlong in the tight. Replaced by Kitshoff at halftime, as the Boks mobilized their supposedly superior scrummagers.

2 BONGI MBONAMBI – 8

The Boks’ top scrummaging hooker was a threat up front, so physical in defense and offense, while South African dominated the first half with a scrum. He may have come out too early for Marx at halftime.

3 TREVOR NYAKANE – 8

Part of the short front row and went into the scrum for Sutherland before being taken away with the rest of the front row at half time.

4 EBEN ETZEBETH – 7.5

From my experience, you don’t want to mess with him. Dirty lock – an absolute animal, which is their physical talisman. Thrown to the lions all day.

Eben Etzebeth is an absolute animal and enjoyed the chance to beat the lions all day long

Eben Etzebeth is an absolute animal and enjoyed the chance to beat the lions all day long

5 FRANCO MUSTARD – 6

The Boxing front-five physically dominated the Lions in the first half, but visibly fatigued in the second. Mostert was solid and the South African lineout was much neater than the Lions.

6 SIYA KOLISI – 6.5

Emotional lightning rod for South Africa but they grew tired as the game went on as his 10 days of Covid isolation started to catch up with him in the second half. The Boks aren’t good at chasing games – and it showed.

7 PIETER-STEPH DU TOIT – 7

Reigning 2019 Global Player of the Year has been dominant in the tight first-half exchanges as the giant in the South African peloton.

Pieter-Steph du Toit was dominant in the early exchanges with a typically powerful display

Pieter-Steph du Toit was dominant in the early exchanges with a typically powerful display

8 KWAGGA SMITH – 7

Former sevens star had a huge job filling Duane Vermuelen’s shoes on his second start at number 8 – he did a good job, using his agility and speed.

LIONS

WARREN GATLAND 7

I’m not sure if his first XV was the right one, but he chose a bench to get a job done and move on at the right time. They saved him in the second half, especially in the front row where he may need to be reconsidered next week. They have to win the physical and kicking battle next week.

15 STUART HOGG – 6.5

His link in the back three with Van der Merwe started weak as they left too much room in the backfield for kicks – and he didn’t get a chance to show his counterattack skills with South Africa’s brilliant chase.

14 ANTHONY WATSON – 7

Had a huge job on his hands in the air and handled it well, getting the Lions out of trouble with jingling runs under pressure. He will definitely keep his place next week.

13 ELLIOT DALY – 5

Failed early on in his discipline – conceding two bad penalties – and was physically dominated by Am. Not the man for the style the Lions played and could lose his spot next week. Defended hard and missed a long penalty.

Daly is not the man for the Lions' playing style and his place on the side is now under threat

Daly is not the man for the Lions’ playing style and his place on the side is now under threat

12 ROBBIE HENSHAW – 7

Good linebreak at half time, but Le Roux crept up on him and drove the ball out at the crucial moment. Well behaved in the second half to get the Lions over the win line, and defended well after only being on tour twice.

11 DUHAN VAN DER MERWE – 6

Made over 200 yards more than anyone with the ball in hand in the tour games but couldn’t get involved enough in the big carries. Chased kicks well, though.

10 AND BIGGER – 7

Statistically a better goal kick throughout his career than Pollard – hitting 85 per cent – and recovered well after an early miss to take three cool penalties. He kicked well off the tee and out of the hand, spreading the space well once they had a quick ball.

9 ALI PRICE – 7

It was vital that he set the pace and once the Lions started winning clashes, he got the ball well away from the rucks. However, he was not well protected enough to be able to snipe meters on his own.

1 RORY SUTHERLAND – 4

Late replacement for injured Wyn Jones – and so the Boks immediately targeted him, as the Stormers did last week. He struggled in the scrum before being replaced by Vunipola. I doubt he will play the second Test.

The Boks were targeting Rory Sutherland and I doubt he will be selected to start in the second test

The Boks were targeting Rory Sutherland and I doubt he will be selected to start in the second test

2 LUKE COWAN DICKIE – 5.5

Struggled early in the lineout with three bad pitches, and was disappointing despite going backwards to throw backwards and then joining the maul to score his try after halftime.

3 TADHG FURLONG – 6.5

He quietly went about his business and grew in the game, especially after the shorter South African props went off. Sinckler and Vunipola were excellent off the bench after he set the platform down.

4 MARO ITOJE – 8

Physically dominated by Etzebeth, but then put his authority on the line. Won two brilliant turnovers at counter-rucking and jackalling. A nuisance as always and also made a few streaks in the tackle on his fourth straight Lions Test. Man of the match.

Maro Itoje was the man of the match after a beautiful display of counter-rucking and jackalling

Maro Itoje was the man of the match after a beautiful display of counter-rucking and jackalling

5 ALUN WYN JONES – 7.5

Very calm first half but bold call to take the corner kick that triggered Cowan-Dickie’s try was a brave cry but it changed the game – that’s why Gatland had him back on the team straight away, for the big leadership moments. Playing for 80 minutes three weeks after dislocating his shoulder is remarkable.

6 JUDICIAL LAWS – 8

So chilled it’s crazy – when I was staying with him he was sleeping, playing or eating room service! Never stunned when it went against the Lions, then was immense after halftime, carrying, breaking the line and then being excellent in the lineout.

Courtney Lawes was immense after halftime, carried, broke the line and into the lineout

Courtney Lawes was immense after halftime, carried, broke the line and into the lineout

7 TOM CURRY – 6

Poor early discipline at the award of two penalties, following England’s lead in the Six Nations, and struggled to clear the mess in the Lions’ failure.

8 JACK CONAN – 7

Worn 45 yards from 12 porters while performing the old fashioned No. 8 jobs. It will still be such a tight call for Gatland to pick him or Taulupe Faletau next week.

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