British & Irish Lions overcome half-time deficit to win first Test with brilliant display

·48-min read
The scene at the final whistle after the Lions claimed victory - REUTERS
The scene at the final whistle after the Lions claimed victory - REUTERS

This was a Lions v South Africa Test match of such thunderous collisions, high drama and with a whiff of controversy to be remembered as one of the great Lions’ encounters, even if it was played in the eerie silence of an empty Cape Town Stadium.

And it was Warren Gatland’s side who drew first blood in what is now set up to be an utterly compelling Test series.

It took the tourists to tap into their huge reservoir of resilience, character and indefatigability to edge out the world champions, in what was their first match against a tier one opposition since their victory over England in Yokohama in November 2019.

Yet the manner of their second half revival - a testament to their tightness as a group and also their conditioning – suggests that a historic series victory is now more of a probability than a possibility.

There were heroes across the pitch, with Maro Itoje delivering a herculean performance that eclipsed even his totem display in the second Test against New Zealand in Wellington. If the sea of red had been here, chants of ‘Oh Maro Itoje’ would have echoed long into the chilly Cape Town night.

Courtney Lawes also stood up to be counted when the Lions needed him most, leading the charge to swing the physical edge back to the tourists’ favour after a first half of alarming dominance for the Springboks and was the towering presence in the line-out. It was his second-half carrying that was the point of difference.

Robbie Henshaw, who had been subdued on his return from a hamstring injury in the victory over the Stormers, also delivered sublime performance in the midfield, giving the tourists presence, stability and go-forward ball in the face of some ferocious line speed defence.

A word too for the magnificent warrior Alun Wyn Jones who remarkably played 80 minutes on his miraculous return from his dislocated shoulder, while Tom Curry despite some poor discipline in the first half when he gave away three penalties, was also a ferocious competitor and was a pillar of resistance against the immense physicality of the Springboks.

“I’ve a lot of respect for the South Africans and the legacy they’ve had in the series that the Lions have faced against South Africa. We had a few questions after that South Africa A game and we needed to answer them,” said Jones.

“It’s credit to what the Lions is about and the group and particularly the group we’ve got here at the moment. I wanted to work hard to get back, I knew I had a chance and I’m just grateful to be able to be here. But we’re all too aware that this is the first game in a series of three.”

 British & Irish Lions players celebrate as Luke Cowan-Dickie of British & Irish Lions stretches over to score their side's first try during the 1st Test between South Africa & British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on July 24, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. - GETTY IMAGES
British & Irish Lions players celebrate as Luke Cowan-Dickie of British & Irish Lions stretches over to score their side's first try during the 1st Test between South Africa & British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on July 24, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. - GETTY IMAGES

The position for the tourists had looked almost desperate for the Lions at half-time as they trailed 12-3, with four penalties by Handre Pollard establishing a lead that looked beyond the tourists, given that the Springboks still had to unleash their vaunted ‘bomb squad’ from the bench.

In the emptiness of the stadium, the collisions could be heard high up in the stands in an opening of even more ferocity than had been predicted.

But a try by Lions hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie at the start of the second half from a rolling maul gave the tourists a foothold, and despite having to weather more waves of pressure, three penalties by Dan Biggar claimed the lead before a final penalty by Owen Farrell ended any hopes of a late Springbok revival.

It was inevitable that Marius Jonker, the South African television match official whose appointment had enraged Warren Gatland, had a major impact on the result, with four decisions of significant consequence.

The first was to scratch off a try by Willie Le Roux, whom he adjudged to have been marginally in front of the kicker, Lukhanyo Am, with Jonker having declared himself happy that the pass from Damian de Allende had not been forward. That it came just minutes after Cowan-Dickie’s try was critical in allowing the Lions to build on their momentum swing.

The second was to award a try to Faf de Klerk even though the ball appeared to touch the hand of Pieter-Steph du Toit from a kick ahead by Makazole Mapimpi before the ball dropped to the Sale scrum-half to ground it.

Hamish Watson was also lucky not to at least receive a yellow card for a dangerous tip-tackle on le Roux when Jonker chose not to intervene. The Scotland flanker will face an anxious wait to see if he is cited. The penalty however allowed the Springboks to reclaim the lead just as the Lions appeared to have finally gained some sort of control.

Hamish Watson tackle on Willie Le Roux.
Hamish Watson tackle on Willie Le Roux.

The fourth was most decisive of all, when he spotted that Cheslin Kolbe had knocked the ball on in attempting to win the ball in the air from Liam Williams.

It was a defining moment. Some sloppy, high-risk play as the Lions were holding onto the lead saw Henshaw flick the ball on only to go loose and it was hacked on by Makazole Mapimpi. Daly appeared to pull him back before Damian de Allende grounded the ball only for it to be called back for a Lions scrum.

Yet the Lions fully deserved their victory, which was founded on their ability to change their tactics in the face of at times overwhelming pressure in the second half. The key was the ability of Ali Price to make his box-kicks longer to give time for the Lions kick-chasers to expose Kwagga Smith rather than attempt to compete in the air.

The Lions scrum, which had endured a rather edgy first three engagements, also became more powerful as the contest went on, which negated the Springboks’ attacking platform despite another spiky display by de Klerk.

The Lions also backed their line-out, turning down a kick at goal in favour of going to the corner, and it paid off richly as Lawes secured possession and the maul was set up perfectly, with backs piling in to add ballast to enable Cowan-Dickie to power over.

With the Lions starting to win the physical collisions, the penalties started to come for the tourists in their opponents’ half and Biggar, despite a first half miss, held his nerve to finally establish a match-winning lead. There was plenty of drama to come, but the Lions held on for one of their most memorable victories.

There is still plenty for the Lions to work on; the Springboks successfully targeted Elliot Daly in the midfield, while Dan Biggar’s kicking out of hand was not as consistent as he would have liked.

But whatever happens they will now go to the last weekend of the series.

Warren Gatland: Beware the Springbok backlash

By Daniel Schofield in Cape Town

Warren Gatland on Saturday night warned of a Springbok backlash next weekend as the Lions head coach hailed a “special” 22-17 comeback victory against the world champions in the first Test.

Asked where this win ranked as he makes his fourth tour, Gatland said: “It is definitely up there. Any Lions Test victory is special. It has been a challenge. We’ve worked hard. Having been down, fighting back into the game was the most pleasing thing.

“To beat the world champions first up in their own back yard is really special. But our changing room is pretty raucous. The victory was about the whole squad.”

The Springboks faded badly, which may be an indication of their disrupted preparation after a number of players contracted Covid-19 and the whole squad were confined to their hotel rooms for a week. Jacques Nienaber, the South Africa head coach, claimed it was “not an excuse” but insisted they could rescue the series. “Definitely,” Nienaber said. “We have to salvage it. We will look at the video and there are definitely things we can sort out.”

Gatland is also wary of what is coming next Saturday in Cape Town. He knows the Springboks will be fitter and certainly a lot angrier, with the tourists seeking to avoid becoming the first Lions side to lose a series lead since 2001 in Australia. “They came really strongly out of the blocks in that first half and put us under pressure,” Gatland said. “I expect they will be a lot stronger in the next two matches. They’ll be hurt from this because they’re an incredibly proud nation and world champions. Next week will be even bigger and tougher, I would expect.”

It is the first time that the Lions have come from behind to win a Test match at half-time since 1989 and Gatland was particularly proud of their second-half performance. “The message at half-time was that we were still in the arm wrestle,” Gatland said. “We were down 12-3 and had given away a few soft penalties to allow them opportunities. [The message] was, ‘Keep our patience, we will get chances, don’t try to force things’. As that second half went on, we got stronger and stronger and got ourselves back into the game.” For the Lions, second rows Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes were sensational. Itoje won crucial turnovers in either half, including the one that ended the Springboks’ final spell of possession, while Lawes gave the Lions a steady stream of line-out ball. Both also ensured that the Lions won the physical battle in the second half.

“I thought Courtney carried exceptionally well and he was strong,” Gatland said. “The big thing was when we started to get some ball on the front foot. It just stopped a little bit of their line speed, we were able to play through some phases and we got some reward from that.

“I thought Maro was immense as well. Both of them had outstanding games and that was key for us, really. I thought we made some good decisions about when to bring replacements on and they all had a big impact coming off the bench, too. But definitely Courtney and Maro’s impact was significant.”

The Lions did require a degree of luck. The Springboks had two tries disallowed, from Damian de Allende and Willie le Roux, after being reviewed by Marius Jonker, the South African television match official whose appointment the Lions had objected to last week. “We had three opportunities to score and get over the try line and I think we got over all three times but unfortunately twice we got brought back,” Nienaber said. “That is how close it is. The margins are inches and in one instance the inch went for us and in the other two instances it didn’t go for us.”

When asked if he felt the Lions got the rub of the green from the officials, Gatland simply replied: “No.” However, the Lions will be sweating over a possible citing for flanker Hamish Watson, who appeared to commit a spear tackle on Le Roux that was only penalised with a penalty.

Home captain Siya Kolisi, who was making a stunning return after spending two weeks in quarantine following his positive test for Covid-19, agreed that his side had come out second best in an area that they have long prided themselves on.

“It’s tough,” Kolisi said. “It didn’t go the way we wanted it to. I thought we started off well and then the discipline killed us and we couldn’t get our mauls going. We had some dominance in the scrums but then it went down in the second half.

“Of course we were happy at the break, but I think we knew somewhere along the line they were going to get some energy and they actually kept up that energy. They didn’t slow down. We just needed to get that momentum somehow in the game, but we couldn’t get hold of that in the second half.”

06:44 PM

Warren Gatland speaks

The changing room is pretty raucous, a couple of songs in there and we're pretty happy. It was a tough, tight Test match and was always going to be. You know whatever happens next week we're here until the final week of the tour. We have a chance to win the series and that's the biggest thing about the sacrifice these players have made.

The message at half-time was that we were still in the arm wrestle. We got the bounce of the ball from some of those kicks, some of the carries were really good and got us on the front foot. And we scored a maul try which was really pleasing.

First half, we gave away soft penalties and didn't get into the game. The penalty count was 9-5 against us in the first half and we significantly turned that around because we put them under pressure. We felt we were still in the game.

We've seen an angle on the try they've scored where it's hit Du Toit's hand, but sometimes you have to live with those decisions. I think all the officials did a good job. Nic Berry refereed really well, he was clear in his instructions with the TMO decisions and I was pleased with the officials.

Their players have all played rugby, it's not as though they haven't played any rugby for the last two years. It's the same with us, short preparation time putting a team together. We felt we've got better as the tour went on. The way we defended the last few phases was outstanding and the game management got better.

We have to sit down and have a look [at selection], there's a lot of players putting their hands up. We may look at some different combinations or players going out and doing a job for us next week.

Probably 6/10 for the first half and 9/10 for the second half! We feel there's more in us and we can get better as a team. These Tests against South Africa are always tough and from the start it was incredibly physical.

06:35 PM

Siya Kolisi speaks

It's tough. It didn't go the way we wanted, we started well and the discipline killed us, we couldn't get our maul going. I'm hopeful for next week.

We were happy at the break. We knew the Lions would get some energy and they didn't slow down. We just needed to get that momentum somehow in the game but we couldn't in the second half.

I can't use [Covid] as an excuse. All I can do is focus on next week.

We'll look at the set-piece, number one. We had some dominance in the first half but they came back well.

06:27 PM

Courtney Lawes speaks - he was superb today

The boys are really excited. It's a great start but have a lot more to give. We're looking forward to next week.

It was an arm wrestle the first half and ill-discipline made it tough for us. We reassessed at half-time. The fact is, we have to keep the ball, and maintain pressure with good discipline. We were better at that in the second half and that helped us.

Courtney Lawes of British & Irish Lions hands off Siya Kolisi of South Africa - GETTY IMAGES
Courtney Lawes of British & Irish Lions hands off Siya Kolisi of South Africa - GETTY IMAGES

06:18 PM

Maro Itoje speaks

These moments don't come often in your career. You can't take them for granted. It's a massive privilege to wear this jersey, to come out here and win is really special.

Second half was a great comeback, but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We want to win this series.

We had to tidy up our discipline and were making silly mistakes, silly penalties. Luckily we had the mental fortitude to see it through.

British and Irish Lions' lock Maro Itoje leaps to catch a lineout  - AFP
British and Irish Lions' lock Maro Itoje leaps to catch a lineout - AFP

06:15 PM

Waiting for more reaction

Got your breath back yet? Lions absolutely rode their luck in the second half but the improvements made across the board were superb.

06:14 PM

What a picture that is from Reuters

The scene at the final whistle - REUTERS 
The scene at the final whistle - REUTERS

06:04 PM

Alun Wyn Jones speaks

Gats was saying we have a good group here. Credit to them and I worked hard to get back to be part of this. Today is special. It was definitely tasty, you could feel it in the first 20.

It was a tail of two halves. But we extended our kicking game a fair bit and we'll definitely look at that for next week. Really disappointed by that first half but we talked about tempo and that's what we brought in the second half.

06:02 PM

What an incredible turnaround

The Springboks had the Lions by the throat in the first half before the tourists staged a truly sensational comeback. Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje were both outstanding, and the Lions' bench outplayed the Springboks bench.

Blimey. Fancy doing that all again next week?

05:57 PM

FULL-TIME: South Africa 17-22 British and Irish Lions

Boks win the restart back! Massive play. On the attack inside the Lions' 22.

Kolisi nearly knocks on but does well, Boks going backwards. Will the Lions' fitness levels shine through here. Boks shoved back to their own 10-metre line but discipline essential for the Lions.

De Allende driven into the grass by Daly. Over 10 phases now for the world champions as the hooter sounds. Knocked on? No, it's another Itoje turnover! Hogg puts it into touch and the Lions win the first Test!

05:57 PM

PENALTY FARRELL! South Africa 17-22 British and Irish Lions

Farrell delivers, and that's big, because the Boks need a try to draw level and potentially win. 90 seconds left from the restart.

05:55 PM

77 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Itoje takes the lineout, the maul has a go. Penalty! Du Toit infringes. Boks look short of energy now, and no wonder after their lack of Test action. Farrell's going to soak up every second with this penalty attempt.

05:54 PM

76 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Watson with a dart off that scrum, Lions trying to keep the ball and maintain territory. Owens with a big run. Murray and Farrell taking their time here, no rush.

High from Farrell, E Jantjies can't bring in the kick, was there a knock-on? Not given, Boks recover the ball, and H Jantjies will clear with a box kick. It's good from where he was, but the Lions have good field position still.

05:53 PM

75 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Mapimpi knocks on! Lions winning the aerial battle right now too. De Klerk comes off. Lions scrum 40 metres out to the right.

05:50 PM

74 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Good scrum by the Lions. Henshaw carries up, box kick from Murray and it's won back by Lawes. Kicked by Farrell but it sits up easily for Willemse who kicks to touch.

The idea from Farrell was good but not executed well enough.

Lawes making way now, Beirne going on. Lawes he been absolutely superb. Alun Wyn Jones going the full 80!

05:49 PM

72 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Solid scrum by the Boks, De Allende crashes up.

Hacked through by the Springboks and do they have another?! Oh boy. The Lions tried to pass their way out of their own 22 and it backfired badly. TMO reviewing whether the Boks scored.

On-field call is try. It was Am's tackle, kicked on by Mapimpi, who then looked to be held back chasing the loose ball before De Allende grounded the ball ahead of Daly.

But back to the initial kick contest, Kolbe looked as though he knocked the ball on. So this should be chalked off, and is. But the Lions were playing with fire there. Their scrum near the left touchline on their own 10-metre line.

05:44 PM

70 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Box kick from De Klerk, ball comes back the Lions' way and then Hogg kicks very well upfield. Farrell with a bomb, Henshaw knocks on. Back for the scrum outside SA's 22.

Clock slowly ticking down as we enter the final 10 minutes...

05:43 PM

69 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Lions get a promising maul going but Owens just edges into touch. Springboks with the lineout on their own 10-metre line.

05:41 PM

68 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Daly back on for Biggar who's going for an HIA. Rejigged backline with Farrell at 10.

If you're getting flashbacks to 2009 with this scoreline, you are not alone.

Lions scrum on their own 22. Big wheel and the Lions get a penalty! Vunipola does so well there against Malherbe. Lions can clear.

05:39 PM

68 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Scrum barely moves an inch. De Allende crashing up, Boks go wide but Am's pass is forward! Lions scrum. Biggar was struggling there after a tackle, getting some treatment.

05:38 PM

66 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Boks have a scrum after a knock-on from Biggar, inside the Lions' half. SA bring Willemse on for Le Roux. Sinckler on too for Furlong.

05:36 PM

64 mins - South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

Looks like a penalty here against Watson, for lifting Le Roux above the horizontal in a tackle. TMO will have to check whether this warrants any further punishment.

It's definitely past the horizontal, wonder if Watson might see yellow here... no! Interesting, could have seen that going differently. Pollard to have a shot, for the lead.

Sam Warburton on comms on the tip tackle: "I wish I was that lucky 10 years ago!"

Pollard misses to the left! His first of the game. Didn't see that coming.

Daly heads off, Farrell on so Henshaw will shift to 13.

05:34 PM

PENALTY BIGGAR! South Africa 17-19 British and Irish Lions

The Lions lead. This has been hugely impressive given the half-time deficit. Springboks can't get field position or stop the Lions maul, and are losing out at the breakdown. Lions playing smarter.

Dan Biggar of the British & Irish Lions  - PA
Dan Biggar of the British & Irish Lions - PA

05:32 PM

61 mins - South Africa 17-16 British and Irish Lions

Scrum steady again, high kick and Kolbe catches the ball out on the full. Lions lineout, won by Itoje, outside SA's 22. Penalty coming for the tourists after the maul is collapsed. What a shift.

05:29 PM

59 mins - South Africa 17-16 British and Irish Lions

Scrum reset. Then solid. Lions kick high, Henshaw and Van der Merwe going up for it and Duhan breaks to try and score! Steps Le Roux, slips though on the pitch and stopped short of the line. But we're coming back for a knock-on though by Henshaw, so doesn't matter.

05:26 PM

58 mins - South Africa 17-16 British and Irish Lions

Owens and Vunipola on for Cowan-Dickie and Sutherland. Watson on now too for Curry. Lions win a scrum in SA's half after a knock-on.

05:24 PM

PENALTY BIGGAR! South Africa 17-16 British and Irish Lions

Easy as that. The gap's a point and the more the Lions play in South Africa's half, the Boks keep giving up penalties.

05:24 PM

54 mins - South Africa 17-13 British and Irish Lions

Oh this is much better by the Lions. Van der Merwe wins back a high kick and Lawes breaks over halfway. Wide to Hogg who makes ground, now into South Africa's 22, going through phases which has been rare. Smith tries another turnover but misses out.

Penalty coming and the Lions will take that - good position for Biggar to chip over three points.

05:21 PM

PENALTY BIGGAR! South Africa 17-13 British and Irish Lions

No mistake with that one, down the middle. Lions edge closer. Feels finely poised now this Test match after the Lions started slowly and Boks looked excellent in the first half.

05:21 PM

51 mins - South Africa 17-10 British and Irish Lions

Quite a vital miss that by Pollard, keeps the Lions within a score of drawing level. Smith trying to poach a turnover gives away a penalty inside the SA half. Biggar going for the posts.

05:14 PM

TRY DE KLERK! South Africa 17-10 British and Irish Lions

Lions after all that won a penalty and kicked to touch. Lawes hit hard in the tackle and knocks on. Scrum for the Boks in midfield on halfway.

And it's a big scrum too with the new front row on for South Africa, technically the stronger front row. Marx pops up and there's a slight wheel to the right, reset.

Solid scrum, De Klerk has a run. Now Smith. Etzebeth too. High by Le Roux, won back by Mapimpi. Boks look wide, Kolisi tackled by Henshaw.

Pollard does a poor pass backwards but it disrupts the Lions' defence, Du Toit breaks and passes to Mapimpi, kicked through and then it looks as though Du Toit hacks it on towards the line. It's a scramble, ball bouncing everywhere, before Mapimpi gets it back and passes the ball back to De Klerk who scores.

But, did it touch Du Toit's hand and go forward? TMO checking.

TMO deems it wasn't knocked on and grounded, so the try counts! Pollard crucially misses the conversion.

05:12 PM

47 mins - South Africa 12-10 British and Irish Lions

It stands! Pass deemed to be flat (boy it was tight) and then Le Roux is just about/there's not enough evidence he was in front of Am's boot when the kick went through (boy that's even tighter!). You can't say he's offside. So the try stands.

....hang on! TMO Marius Jonker has said Le Roux's in front of the kicker! Try chalked off by the South African TMO. Blimey.

05:10 PM

46 mins - South Africa 12-10 British and Irish Lions

Smith gets absolutely clattered by Van der Merwe! This is better from the Lions, more physical. Le Roux with a high kick, De Allende with the ball, passes to Am, kicked ahead and Le Roux looks as though he's scored! But was he onside? It's being checked.

05:08 PM

TRY COWAN-DICKIE! South Africa 12-10 British and Irish Lions

Well, hello. The Lions maul roar. Lineout smooth, backs flooding in to join the power of the pack and the Lions drive over for the Test's first try! Cowan-Dickie gets it down just about and the Lions cut the gap.

Converted by Biggar. The Lions cut the gap to two points.

05:06 PM

Second half underway

...and the Lions get the start they need with a penalty. Kicked to touch inside South Africa's 22. Won by Itoje, maul goes down. Lawes and Conan have runs. Nice hands by Jones, tipped on to Hogg. Lions have a penalty coming after a high tackle. Given. Biggar going to the corner!

05:03 PM

Here come the bomb squad

Marx, Kitshoff and Malherbe all on for South Africa, brand new front row. Blimey. Boks going for the jugular.

05:01 PM

Ronan O'Gara on Sky

You get the feeling there are people in red jerseys not convinced about what they're trying to execute.

Quite damning but also accurate. Also, if the Lions land those penalties and Henshaw finds a team-mate with that break, very different game. Lions must score first though.

South Africa's second row Eben Etzebeth getting friendly with the Lions - AFP
South Africa's second row Eben Etzebeth getting friendly with the Lions - AFP

04:52 PM

History not really on the Lions side

04:50 PM

HALF-TIME: South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Won by Etzebeth, maul not moving too far, stopped once, goes to ground and De Klerk puts it into touch. Worth a go by the Boks but nothing comes off it.

Let's be honest, the Lions are losing the scrum battle, the breakdown battle, and their bid for width is playing into the hands of South Africa's rush defence and best jackalers at the breakdown, all while Faf de Klerk keeps (brilliantly) pinning the Lions back with his kicking game. Something needs to chance. Second half coming up.

Kolbe and Van der Merwe battle for a high ball - SPORTSFILE
Kolbe and Van der Merwe battle for a high ball - SPORTSFILE

04:47 PM

40 mins - South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Couple of resets for this final scrum, which could be the last act of the first half. It's deep inside the Boks' 22. Penalty South Africa! Sutherland pinged for hinging. Boks could kick this out and get to half-time but they want more. Kicked to touch near halfway and they'll unleash the maul to try and get another penalty.

04:45 PM

39 mins - South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Daly's kick from 55 metres is.... short, just. Under the posts. Boks clear. Another penalty coming as the Boks infringe at the ruck.

Break from Henshaw, Price is to his left... but he delays and the ball's knocked out of his hands! That's desperate, super tackle by Le Roux. Lions had to make more of that, good run through by Henshaw.

04:41 PM

37 mins - South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Price box kicks high but long, De Allende winning it back. De Klerk kicks high, taken very well by Price sliding in. More kicks, Van der Merwe chasing another knocks on... nope, Pollard knocks on first. A Lions scrum outside South Africa's 22.

Scrap that, TMO has come in and called a high tackle against Mbonambi. Chance for Biggar to redeem that miss a few minutes ago.

Hold on. We've gone back to where the tackle was, on Jones, and Daly will have a go with a penalty from halfway.

04:39 PM

35 mins - South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Biggar wide to the left! Oh dear. That's a rare miss. Boks to drop out through Pollard, won in the air by Itoje.

04:38 PM

34 mins - South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Messy lineout from the Lions but they get the ball back. Was knocked on by Etzebeth so the Lions will get a scrum on the Boks' 22.

Penalty Lions, good scrum work by Furlong*. Biggar to take a shot.

*or was it?

04:36 PM

32 mins - South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Penalty coming the Lions was this time after Smith fails to roll away. Nice run by Conan, wide to Watson who grubbers into touch. Back for the penalty, kicked to touch for a lineout on SA's 22. Have to create something off this.

04:34 PM

PENALTY POLLARD! South Africa 12-3 British and Irish Lions

Accurate as ever by Pollard. South Africa all over the Lions whose tactics trying to go wide look all wrong, getting picked off by the Boks' defence.

Handré Pollard of South Africa is tackled by Duhan van der Merwe  - SPORTSFILE
Handré Pollard of South Africa is tackled by Duhan van der Merwe - SPORTSFILE

04:33 PM

30 mins - South Africa 9-3 British and Irish Lions

Henshaw pinged for holding on! Mbonambi fired up, congratulating Nyakane. It's been a breakdown clinic so far from the Boks and the Lions have given up six penalties in half an hour. Pollard going for the posts.

04:31 PM

27 mins - South Africa 9-3 British and Irish Lions

Smith has been good on the restarts for SA. De Klerk clears again. Cowan-Dickie furious about the lack of gap, complaining to the assistant referee.

...and the lineout isn't straight. Lions wobbling here (yet only six points down).

04:29 PM

PENALTY POLLARD! South Africa 9-3 British and Irish Lions

No worries there. Boks back to a six-point lead.

04:29 PM

24 mins - South Africa 6-3 British and Irish Lions

Scrum holds, Kolbe carries up. Wideer now, Nche stopped short of the 22. Penalty coming for the Boks, this time against Furlong. The Lions losing the breakdown battle and Pollard can have another shot.

04:27 PM

24 mins - South Africa 6-3 British and Irish Lions

Knock-on from the Lions just outside their 22. Good position for the Boks here with a scrum wide right, lots of field to work with.

04:26 PM

22 mins - South Africa 6-3 British and Irish Lions

Huge, huge carry from Kolisi, surging towards the Lions line after the Lions were caught out by the lineout. But again Itoje comes up with a turnover. De Klerk needed one pass for a try. Superb. Lions clear.

04:25 PM

21 mins - South Africa 6-3 British and Irish Lions

Nice by Le Roux, stepping a tackle, but Itoje pounces for an amazing turnover. Lions kick, chase down Pollard, but are then penalised for not releasing. Some really soft penalties from the tourists. Boks have a lineout outside the Lions' 22.

04:23 PM

PENALTY BIGGAR! South Africa 6-3 British and Irish Lions

Middle of the field from 40 metres out, and Biggar lands it. Lions back within three points. That was needed.

04:22 PM

19 mins - South Africa 6-0 British and Irish Lions

Lions get a welcome penalty after De Allende goes offside. Biggar to have a shot.

04:22 PM

PENALTY POLLARD! South Africa 6-0 British and Irish Lions

Too easy for him from there. South Africa with a handy lead and they're on top at the moment through their kicking game even without the Lions giving away daft penalties. Unfortunately for Curry, he's given away both of them.

Pieter-Steph du Toit of South Africa tackling Tom Curry - PA
Pieter-Steph du Toit of South Africa tackling Tom Curry - PA

04:20 PM

17 mins - South Africa 3-0 British and Irish Lions

Better from the Lions, Nyakane popping up, but De Klerk kicks deep and so well too, Hogg can't stop it. Curry put a shoulder into De Klerk after the kick, is that being checked? Yep, penalty. Inside the Lions' 22 as well. Pollard going for points.

04:18 PM

15 mins - South Africa 3-0 British and Irish Lions

Lions on the attack, 40 metres out. But, ball lost as Etzebeth and Du Toit win a turnover on Itoje, holding him up. Didn't hear a call for a maul there, but it was one (technically). Scrum for the Boks.

04:17 PM

PENALTY POLLARD! South Africa 3-0 British and Irish Lions

Dinked it over like he was chipping with a wedge. The world champions lead.

04:15 PM

12 mins - South Africa 0-0 British and Irish Lions

Second scrum. Nyakane got on top of Sutherland last time. Free-kick to Boks, early engage. De Klerk kicks, well fielded by Watson trying to break and doing well. Price clears to Pollard.

Boks attacking inside the Lions' half and they get a penalty, Lions not rolling away, Curry was trapped. Early chance for Pollard to add points.

Insight on those scrum from former England and Lions prop Alex Corbisiero.

04:13 PM

That hit on Daly, blimey

04:12 PM

10 mins - South Africa 0-0 British and Irish Lions

Nice move off the lineout, Henshaw and Curry carrying up, before a ball to Van der Merwe is fractionally forward. Kolbe nearly intercepted it. Boks with the scrum outside their own 22, the first of the contest. Collapses, penalty against the Lions on Sutherland. Boks wide, but Le Roux knocks on. Kick from Lions rolls dead.

04:10 PM

8 mins - South Africa 0-0 British and Irish Lions

Barely time to breath. Lovely grubber from De Klerk into touch gives the Lions a lineout on their own 10-metre line. Won by Lawes. Maul gets going, penalty against Du Toit. Biggar tries a grubber but doesn't come off, back for the penalty. Into touch.

04:08 PM

6 mins - South Africa 0-0 British and Irish Lions

Tons of kicks, tons of huge tackles too. Boks with the ball 40 metres out. Looking for width, Le Roux brought down. Good pressure by Itoje forces a turnover by De Klerk and Hogg clears long.

04:06 PM

5 mins - South Africa 0-0 British and Irish Lions

Lineout won by Lawes and then Daly gets absolutely clattered by Am. Goodness me. Boks turn it over, 40 metres out. Boks kick but it's marked, that's a waste. Lions now with the ball and Biggar goes high, taken well by Pollard in his own half.

04:05 PM

3 mins - South Africa 0-0 British and Irish Lions

Lineout won, box kick from De Klerk, well taken by Van der Merwe. Price box kicks, taken by Pollard but he's driven into touch well by Curry. Lions lineout inside SA's half.

04:03 PM

2 mins - South Africa 0-0 British and Irish Lions

Cowan-Dickie hits his man the lineout, the Lions kick high, good chase by Van der Merwe with Kolbe under pressure but Curry was in front of the kicker. Lions pinged. South Africa clear to touch for a lineout.

04:02 PM

KICKOFF!

Biggar goes deep to the left, taken by the Boks, and De Klerk clears eventually after a bit of digging with a box kick.

04:01 PM

Springbok anthem excellent as ever

Rassie the water boy in position. Kolisi pumped up. (Still pleased they ditched that Lions anthem)

Sitting comfortably? Referee Nic Berry, the Aussie, is in the middle ready for kickoff. Dan Biggar has the ball under his arm, he'll get us underway. Itoje among the Lions players to take the knee before kickoff.

It's time.

03:58 PM

Teams are out

Pollard leads out the Springboks on his 50th cap. Alun Wyn Jones leads the Lions, carrying BIL the cuddly toy. There's flames. There's fireworks. But goodness how sad that there are no fans. Final seconds now before kick-off.

03:56 PM

Sky's virtual team got a bit initimidating

03:52 PM

Almost forgot there was a trophy

03:52 PM

If, and it's a big if, the Lions can build a lead

Then bringing Murray and Farrell off the bench to help try and close things out isn't the worst thing. It's the grunt of Marx, Kitshoff, Malherbe and De Jager which will worry the Lions.

03:50 PM

Ominous

03:46 PM

Remarkable recovery from the 2019 Men's Player of the Year

03:45 PM

Well then, feels like the right time to leave this here

03:43 PM

The two teams

03:39 PM

Huge day for Hogg

Finally, finally, he wins a first Test cap for the Lions after two previous tours. 2017 was gut-wrenching. Now he gets his chance. Spoke to him recently about that and how full-back play has changed.

South African teams, you face a lot of high balls from No 9 and 10, so it’s about getting up there to diffuse those kicks and make sure we come up with the ball. No kick is the same; the ball flight, chase, length. It’s making sure I’m confident to get up and take them. As soon as you get a couple early in a game, you tend to go well.

03:35 PM

All friends, for now

03:33 PM

Let's talk Alun Wyn Jones

Who knows what they've done to that shoulder, but the fact the Lions spoke about being able to take more risks with Jones given he's at the end of his career is intriguing.

You're just meant to come back from a dislocated shoulder that quickly but, then again, Alun Wyn Jones is no ordinary player.

He gets a lot of comical criticism for not being as flash a second row as others around the world but it cannot be stressed enough how incredible his work-rate is around the field. Plus, he's an exceptional captain.

Gatland and the Lions wouldn't have taken this kind of gamble on any other player. How long will he last? I'm guessing 50 minutes or so.

Alun Wyn Jones of British & Irish Lions warms up - GETTY IMAGES
Alun Wyn Jones of British & Irish Lions warms up - GETTY IMAGES

03:29 PM

Gatland pre-match to Sky

Rory's done really well for us and we think that experience coming off the bench with Mako, having him come off and doing that, we know how strong the SA bench is and it's one of the things that got them through the World Cup. We're really happy for Rory but disappointed for Wyn. Hopefully he'll be back in training next week.

We put a lot of players against SA 'A' and they came at us hard, got a good feel for what they're going to bring tonight. We feel we've trained well, conditioning wise we're in a good spot and we're really excited about tonight.

03:27 PM

Let's talk combinations

Aside from Robbie Henshaw and Elliot Daly's time together last week against the Stormers, the Lions don't have a lot of continuity here in terms of their selections from the previous tour matches. The back-three, half-backs, second row and back row haven't played together once on this tour until today.

Does it matter? Guess we'll know by full=time today.

03:25 PM

Prep in the changing room

03:24 PM

Not enough balls there Faf

Faf de Klerk warms up at Cape Town Stadium - GETTY IMAGES
Faf de Klerk warms up at Cape Town Stadium - GETTY IMAGES

03:21 PM

Our chief rugby correspondent on the scene

03:18 PM

South Africa to join the Six Nations?

Gavin Mairs, from Cape Town, with the latest on the Springboks potentially joining Europe's top competition.

The Springboks will "definitely" join the Six Nations following the investment of private equity firm CVC in the championship, a leading South African administrator has claimed.

The leading South African sides have already agreed to join the Pro 14 clubs next season to form the United Rugby Championship and it is expected to be confirmed in the next two weeks that they will also take part in the European Challenge Cup next season, which could see the likes of Saracens draw against the Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Lions from December.

Ed Coetzee, the chief executive of the Sharks which are promoted by Jay Z's Roc Nation sports agency, believes it is now inevitable that the Springboks will also look to Europe for their international competition.

This year’s Rugby Championship already looks doomed after an eight-week travel ban between Australia and New Zealand was imposed on Friday because of the pandemic restrictions.

When asked if South Africa will join the Six Nations, Coetzee said: "I think it will definitely happen. I think if we asked them now, they would say never.

"But if we also asked them if we would play in Europe, they would have said never.

“So I think it is a natural progression - it's bound to happen. I think there might be a promotion and relegation. I think Georgia are also pushing hard and Italy haven't been great.

"You have the likes of private equity guys CVC coming into rugby and they are not coming in to lose money. They want commercially sound, scalable competitions - it just makes sense.

"The only thing we have in common with New Zealand and Australia is that we are in the southern hemisphere. There is about a 15-hour journey to Sydney - how do you compete?”

The original plan for the South African franchises was to join the European Champions Cup from 2022, but Coetzee said they would now go straight into the Challenge Cup.

“It is really exciting,” added Coetzee. “We want to be sustainably successful in Europe, that is where we want to be. We have to earn the right to play there.”

03:08 PM

Why are the Springboks so hard to beat?

The main man Charlie Morgan has broken down South Africa's many strengths, including their rush defence and sharp kicking game, which will be spearheaded today by Faf de Klerk, Pollard and Willie le Roux.

Simply put, South Africa kick so much because territory gives their defence and lineout jumping an opportunity to force errors further up the field. And there are nuances, too.

03:05 PM

Wales unusually depleted in this Test

With Wyn Jones injured and Josh Adams missing out on the wing. No special favours from their former head coach.

03:01 PM

ONE HOUR TO GO

Excited?

Kyle Sinckler passes the ball during the British & Irish Lions captain's run - GETTY IMAGES
Kyle Sinckler passes the ball during the British & Irish Lions captain's run - GETTY IMAGES

02:58 PM

Remembering 1974

One of the great Lions tours, Mick Cleary looks back on the trip which featured the 99 call and a momentous achievement.

There was a cost, metaphorical as much as literal. McGeechan had to suspend his mortgage. Others were forced to take leave of absence with no pay. The £2.50 daily allowance did not stretch that far albeit one player did confide that the squad-orchestrated selling of their quota of match-day tickets did contribute to his first family Austin Maxi on returning home.

Ian McGeechan of the British Lions (left) in action against South Africa in 1974 - GETTY IMAGES
Ian McGeechan of the British Lions (left) in action against South Africa in 1974 - GETTY IMAGES

02:43 PM

Inside the camp

It's been excellent to have Courtney Lawes as a columnist throughout this series. Starting today, he has a huge role to be play physically and at the lineout and breakdown. Here's Lawes' latest on how the selection meetings went this week.

Here we go, we all thought. Except then Gats proceeded to give another talk himself. The wait continued. The atmosphere was thick with nervous tension.

Thankfully I could see the funny side of it all but I know several of the boys were really struggling with it all. Just get on with it, Gats!

02:33 PM

Notes on South Africa

So, what shape are South Africa in exactly?

Honestly it was hard not to be impressed by their first-half performance against the Lions in the SA 'A' game.

Except there was also a nagging feeling that the Lions weren't showing their full hand in that game, with those repetitive carries close to the line when in a scoring position rather than looking wide.

Rassie Erasmus being able to send instructions to the players in his now water role has caused a bit of an unnecessary fracas really, but it's certainly interesting.

Most of the attention when the Springboks named their side went on naming their two best props on the bench, and it could prove to be an inspired bit of selection by head coach Jacques Nienaber.

There has also rightly been a lot of attention however on Kwagga Smith at No 8 - I've broken down how he compares to Duane Vermeulen, the Boks' usual No 8 currently injured.

Of course, Smith lacks the size of Vermeulen, but he's a sharp operator at the breakdown and will be one of the hosts' main turnover threats.

South Africa's selection otherwise from the World Cup remains relatively familiar.

Siya Kolisi being named fit after his time isolating due to Covid-19 comes as a major boost but the return of star fly-half Handré Pollard towards the end of the season was vital for the Springboks.

Elton Jantjies is a capable deputy, no question, but not at the same world-class level of Pollard.

Realistically though, the Springboks look imposing, physical, and capable of shaking off the rust after one Test match since the Rugby World Cup against Georgia.

02:25 PM

Reminder of the two teams

02:22 PM

From the Lions media officer - they're on the move

02:19 PM

The Greatest Lions XV

Mick Cleary has spent this week selecting his greatest-ever Lions XV of all time, which is some task. You can read it here. Who could he possibly be talking about...

A player’s captain, faithful, enduring and always prepared to do the hard yards himself. He was a fine lock forward, too, well-schooled in the basics, never wavering from his first line of duty, anchoring the scrum, securing ball in the lineout also before smashing the bejesus at every ruck.

02:13 PM

Not a cloud above the ground

So if Warren Gatland wants the Lions to play with width, as expected, then the conditions are in their favour.

02:11 PM

Worth watching

The Lions' behind-the-scenes videos have been excellent so far. Here's the latest one from earlier this week.

02:00 PM

Strap in folks

Twelve years. Where on earth does the time go? For the first time since 2009, the British and Irish Lions are set to face the Springboks in South Africa in a Test match. For those of you who also measure your lives in Lions cycles (just me?), that's quite petrifying. Shout out to my 21-year-old self.

The fact this tour has taken place is either a miracle or utterly bizarre, depending on which side of the fence you decide to stand, not just because of the pandemic but also given the riots that have taken place in South Africa in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, the first Test has arrived, not at that iconic (but creaking) former venue of Newlands but instead in Green Point's gleaming Cape Town Stadium.

Some important team news from the Lions camp which broke just over an hour ago: loosehead prop Wyn Jones is out with a minor shoulder injury. That means Scotland's Rory Sutherland comes into the starting XV - taking the Scottish contingent in this Test side to four, extraordinary scenes for the Scots after years in the Lions Test wilderness - while England's Mako Vunipola comes onto the bench.

We've got plenty of time before kick-off so go check on the bbq/braai, stock the fridge, plough through the many build-up articles I'll be posting here and, most importantly, try not to look too much at the clock. This Test series, one of rugby union's most brutal match-ups, is not far away now.

Rory Sutherland comes into the starting XV for the Lions - GETTY IMAGES
Rory Sutherland comes into the starting XV for the Lions - GETTY IMAGES

01:42 PM

Springboks rejected 'dented egos' suggestion from Gatland

South Africa have pledged to settle the battle of the egos on the field in Saturday's first Test against the British and Irish Lions.

Head coach Warren Gatland believes the Lions hurt the Springboks' pride with a dominant set-piece showing despite falling to a 17-13 loss to South Africa A.

Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick rejected Gatland's "mind games" ahead of Saturday's Test series opener in Cape Town, but also vowed the hosts would prove their point in deed not word.

"From my side I won't go deep on that one," said Stick.

"We were happy as a Springbok team; if you look at the most important stat in the game, which is the final score. We won the game so I'm not too sure what it is that they dented.

"I'm not going to fall into that trick of playing the mind games, I'm not a mind games person. The game is going to be played between four lines.

"If Gatland is talking about the egos, he doesn't really know much about us as South Africans.

"So I'm not going to go deep on that. Let's wait and see after the game tomorrow. Hopefully we can give the people a good show of rugby. We know they are going to be tough, we know they are going to be physical. So once again, when it comes the ego, we'll see the egos between the four lines."

The Lions series will finally get underway on Saturday amid an increasingly tense off-field backdrop, with the tourists frustrated by South African Marius Jonker acting as Television Match Official (TMO).

Lions boss Gatland was understood to be furious when discovering Jonker's role on Wednesday, after New Zealand's Brendon Pickerill was forced to withdraw due to Covid-related travel trouble.

Forwards coach Robin McBryde revealed however that Saturday's officials told the Lions of their confidence of neutral refereeing.

"We met the three officials who are officiating on the weekend," said McBryde. "We went through everything that's happened to date. They were reluctant to pass any opinion on what's happened.

"They're aware of it and they're confident in the comms they'll have on the weekend that between the four of them, they'll come to the right decision.

"The impression I got really was that they wanted to move on and that they trust in their own decisions and communications and the understanding between the three of them, so hopefully that will come to the fore on the weekend." PA

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