What a fantastic turnaround by the Lions. At half-time I was very worried, they hadn’t really shot in the first 40 minutes and I always thought there was no going back from defeat in the first Test.
They came out of the tunnel with a much focused team, kicked better and started putting phases together and we started to notice that South Africa is not very disciplined and organized in defence.
Finally, the Lions had great Courtney Lawes and Jack Conan running towards them, while Maro Itoje – by distance the Lions man of the match – was immense. Although there was a lot of drama in the second half, from about 25 minutes on, I was confident in a Lions win. There had been a turnaround.
Owen Farrell and Conor Murray are pretty good players to take with all their experience
Maro Itoje (L) was absolutely immense for Lions and was remotely their man of the match
This Springbok team may be world champions, but they haven’t had a chance to develop since the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They haven’t had a rugby test, looked vulnerable and had little rugby, but they also made some bad decisions.
The game was still there for the win when they brought in Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard. Why would you do that?
However, I can’t say I was that confident during the break! After all the build-up, excitement and hype, it was a desperately disappointing first half, no spectacle and a lot less than the Lions game against South Africa A, which combined fire and fury with real skill.
We should not underestimate the nerves with so many Lions making their debuts and that was what drove the three early penalty results that Tom Curry gave away.
Tom Curry (center) was aware of the need to be aggressive, but he needs more discipline
Yes, he had to get in the Boxing faces and lead No7’s fight and Curry was aware of that, but the margins are so narrow he had to be a lot more disciplined.
Pollard helped himself to two successful kicks on goal from Curry fouls and then another Englishman, Elliot Daly, coughed up another penalty and three more points.
It was all quite reminiscent of England in the Six Nations and you wonder what the problem is. I thought the calls were good, so it wasn’t Australian referee Nic Berry.
What struck me was that aside from some good early lineout takes from Lawes, the Lions couldn’t launch him and Conan into the Boks with that big stampede and clashes that can increase the team’s intensity. Also, Lawes was unable to create his signature hits that have the same effect.
Lukhanyo Am launched an absolutely massive hit on Elliot Daly which was a totally legal tackle
South Africa rejoiced when Lukhanyo Am Daly poured in, completely legal I’d add.
It was hard work for the Lions. Most critics rate the Boks’ front row starting as inferior to their Bomb Squad replacements, but the Lions weren’t having any fun against them and after a good start, the Lions lineout started to sputter.
And the mind started to wander. What the hell was Luke Cowan-Dickie doing with that panicky short lopsided throw that was rightly pinged? And why did he laugh and laugh about it afterwards? It was naive play and cost valuable field position.
Taking into account a couple of missed penalties and it was a miserable 40 minute opening for the Lions who were lucky enough to leave just 12-3.
It was a miserable first 40 minutes for the Lions and they were lucky to be only nine behind negen
Immediately after the break it was different. Lawes and Conan played a bigger role. Cowan-Dickie was quickly able to make up for it with a well-developed lineout rumble and the game was on again. The lions were sharper and sharper.
However, the Boks are always dangerous, and in quick succession there were two huge TMO calls, one attempt in South Africa was disallowed and once allowed. Both were spot on and, given all the pre-match publicity – drive if you will – about Marius Jonker’s last minute appointment as TMO, the officials handled it well. They were under as much pressure as the players.
The Lions kept their focus, their kick game improved and Dan Biggar’s boot worked well with three penalties, the last of which gave the Lions the lead for the first time.
Hamish Watson really couldn’t have had any complaints if he had been given a yellow card kaart
Then came that appeal to Hamish Watson, only a penalty for a clear leg lift and potentially dangerous. It probably looked yellow, but a simple penalty was the call and Pollard missed the kick. I’d say that’s the only call the Boks can reasonably argue against. Watson is said to have said a prayer as it went up. Yellow cards and even the occasional red are given for less.
The big decisions kept coming and the officialdom got it right with Cheslin Kolbe’s knock-on in the lead up to what appeared to be an attempt in South Africa. Perfect again, and then the Lions confirmed themselves.
Owen Farrell and Conor Murray are good players to finish a game and that’s what they did. A great victory that may be briefly celebrated, but the work is only half done. Expect a big response from the Boks next Saturday and the Lions should match them.
After a slow first half, the Lions finally got Jack Conan (center) running