Lions roar back in second half to take series lead against the Springboks

Warren Gatland's side battled back from 12-3 down at the break to secure an impressive win over world champions South Africa

Dan Biggar kicked 14 points for the Lions in their victory over South Africa but is a concern for next weekend's second Test after failing an HIA late in the match. Image: Craig Watson
Dan Biggar kicked 14 points for the Lions in their victory over South Africa but is a concern for next weekend's second Test after failing an HIA late in the match. Image: Craig Watson

South Africa 17

British & Irish Lions 22

A PULSATING encounter in Cape Town ended with the Lions taking a 1-0 lead in this summer’s three Test series against the world champion Springboks with a win which was, in fact, much closer than the five points separating the two teams at the final whistle suggests.

The hosts will be kicking themselves at surrendering a 12-3 half-time lead, and frustrated that the they twice got over the line during the second half only for those tries to be chalked off by the Television Match Official. They will have to think long and hard this week about how they reduce the crippling penalty count which cost them so dearly in the second half.

It really could have gone either way, although the Lions probably deserved it more for the way they sharpened up their set-piece, breakdown and kicking game after the break to wrestle their way into the lead. But this series is wide open, and we know there will be a big reaction from the host nation when round two comes along next Saturday.

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The Lions looked to lay down an early marker when Alun Wyn Jones won clean line-out ball at the tail and Dan Biggar hoisted a towering kick which was chased down by Duhan van Der Merwe, but the big winger knocked the ball on as he pressurised opposite number Cheslin Kolbe and play was called back for an offside by Tom Curry.

South Africa wasted little time in demonstrating that they were not just in this game to make up the numbers with Lukhanyo Am issuing a ferocious declaration of intent when he flattened Elliot Daly in the middle of the park.

With the Lions line-out under pressure, and South Africa competing hard at the breakdown, the world champions slowly but surely took control of the match, and it took some excellent work by the excellent Maro Itoje to win two turnovers as the hosts looked to press home their dominance.

Itoje was declared man-of-the-match at the end. A deserved accolade but he could only have been a short nose ahead of the equally exceptional Courtney Lawes.

Eventually, in the 14th minute, Hendre Pollard broke the deadlock with a penalty after Curry was called for not rolling away from the tackle, and three minutes later, the Springbok stand-off doubled his account when Curry was penalised again, this time for a late tackle on Faf de Klerk.

It was the third penalty conceded by the English flanker inside the first 16 minutes, which is not good enough in a match we all knew was going to be balanced on a knife edge.

Biggar managed to narrow the gap three minutes later when Damian de Allende was penalised for offside – but rather than settle Lions’ nerves, this invigorated their opponents, and Pollard fired home two more penalties in quick succession after Lions ruck infringements.

The Lions finished the half strongly and Biggar had an opportunity to pull three points back after Tadhg Furlong won a scrum penalty, but the Welsh playmaker pulled his shot at goal to the left of the posts.

Not long later, Daly stepped up to have a shot at goal following a high tackle by Trevor Nyakane on Alun Wyn Jones, but his 55-metre effort fell just short.

Lions had a golden opportunity to go in at the break on a real high when good hands from Stuart Hogg and Biggar sent Robbie Henshaw clear. With support runners in his left and right slipstreams, the Irishman had the Springboks in trouble for the first time in the match, but Willie Le Roux got back to knock the ball out of the big centre’s hands and the chance was gone.

Rory Sutherland – a late call-up to the Lions front-row due to a Wyn Jones shoulder injury – was penalised at the subsequent scrum meaning South Africa remained nine points clear as they disappeared down the tunnel for a well-earned breather.

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South Africa replaced their entire front-row at the start of the second half, but the new boys didn’t really have a chance to make an impact before the tourists had punched their way right back into the match, forcing two penalties to get into the strike zone then opting to go for the corner instead of taking the three points which were on offer. That boldness paid off when the line-out was driven over the try-line and Luke Cowan-Dickie got the downward pressure.

It looked like the Springboks had struck right back when Le Roux was first to Am’s kick ahead as it bounced over the Lions try-line, but the TMO ruled that the full-back had been in front of the kicker.

Warren Gatland was furious during the week when he discovered that Marius Jonker – a South African – was going to be the TMO during this series, but he can’t have had any complaints about that decision.

If South Africa were frustrated at missing out on that score, they didn’t let it knock them off their stride, and they got the try they were after just a few minutes later when Pieter-Steph du Toit and Makazole Mapimpi combined to set up de Klerk for the finishing touch.

But Pollard missed the conversion and, with Lions pressure forcing South Africa into a series of lapses in discipline, the momentum of this match was now with the tourists. Biggar capitalised by kicking two more penalties to make a two-point game as we approached the hour mark.

Van der Merwe reminded us of the threat he poses when he raced clear following another well-contested high kick from Biggar, but play was pulled back for a Henshaw knock-on.

Lions took the lead for the first time in the match when Biggar fired home a touchline penalty on 63 minutes.

Hamish Watson, on as a replacement for Currie, rode his luck when he appeared to tip Le Roux past 180 degrees in a tackle, and the added bonus for the Lions was Pollard uncharacteristically missing the penalty.

Lions dodged another bullet when Hogg and Henshaw got themselves into a mess shovelling poor passes in the middle of the park and de Allende dived on the ball in the Lions in-goal area – only for another try to be chalked off, this time for a knock-on earlier in the passage of play by Kolbe.

With less than four minutes to go, Owen Farrell kicked another penalty for the Lions which gave the tourists a four point cushion, and they saw out the match with some robust defence.

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Teams –

South Africa: W le Roux (D Willemse 67); C Kolbe, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard (E Jantjies 71), F de Klerk (H Jantjies 75); O Nché (S Kitshoff 41), B Mbonambi (M Marx 41), T Nyakane (F Malherbe 41), E Etzebeth, F Mostert (L de Jager 64), S Kolisi, P du Toit, K Smith (R Elstadt 64).

Lions: S Hogg; A Watson, E Daly (O Farrell 65), R Henshaw, D van der Merwe (L Williams 70); D Biggar (E Daly 67), A Price (C Murray 64); R Sutherland (M Vunipola 57), L Cowan-Dickie (K Owens 57), T Furlong (K Sinckler 67), M Itoje, A Jones,  C Lawes (T Beirne 75), T Curry (H Watson 57), J Conan.


Scorers –

South Africa: Try: de Klerk; Pens: Pollard 4.

Lions: Try: Cowan-Dickie; Con: Biggar; Pen: Biggar 4, Farrell.

Scoring sequence (South Africa first): 3-0; 6-0; 6-3; 9-3; 12-3 (h-t) 12-8; 12-10; 17-10; 17-13; 17-19; 17-22;

Mike Blair appointed head coach at Edinburgh

About David Barnes 3963 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I to have been listening to and reading a good few pundits, and I get the feeling that they really do not like anyone Scottish being on the tour in any shape or form. The feeling that everything that went wrong in the WIN!!!!! was due to the Scots. So therefore they must all be dropped, Hogg , Price , VDM and Sutherland. It’s like they cannot rest easy until they are all gone and replaced by their English equivalents.
    I have gotten used to the Irish how dare you pick Price over Murray, the Welsh and English you cannot pick Hogg over Williams he catches all the high balls except when he drops more of them than Hogg. As for saint Henshaw , did he not butcher a try with at least 3 Lions within passing distance. Gatland and his coaches have a set of plan’s one set of which has been disrupted by the absence of Finn, that means they have to play to suit Bigger who is a good 10 but does not bring the game that Finn and even young Smith brings. To my mind Finn and Smith bring a faster game , closer to the game line , and a game which brings the backs into the game much more often, plus that mysterious x factor leaving you wondering did he just do that, Biggar and Farrell do not. What these pundits seem to forget also is that the replacements are coming on against a South African team that’s played 50-70 minutes and the replacements are fresh as a daisy, sometimes it’s easy to shine in those circumstances.

    • Don’t forget all the criticism in the Scottish media when Scottish players were overlooked in the past.

      It’s all just pointless nationalistic rubbish wherever it comes from.

  2. In addition to nationalistic briefing by the various commentators and pundits, the use of Nigel Owens’ ‘insights’ is also wearing a bit thin. It seems like almost every play/descision is getting examined for Nigel’s opinion/Welsh viewpoint. Whilst sometimes interesting, it is getting to the point where it’s distracting from the actual action. Hope they calm it down or the next game could be drowned in over analysis sic Ref blows for the start of the game, Greenwood pipes up, ‘Nigel, the length of the ref’s whistle blast, what do you think, too long?….should we restart?

  3. Boks believed the media hype that Hogg and VDW were rubbish under the high ball. I think both missed one, same as Bigger and Watson and less than L Williams and Daley.
    Also once Gatland change the approach to the ruck, getting another man in, counter ruck less effective and Lions get better ball.
    Plus the Boks ran out of steam fairly early
    Lions kicked as much with much more success, take a bow VDM for his chase – had them panicking. And Price especially whose box kicks were always spot on for distance while contestable. He had an exceptional game
    Daly got thumped early from a Bigger hospital pass, might have done for his confidence but he was very poor all game.
    Boks will be up for next week even more, will be more match fit and maybe stamina a bit better, it will need to be.
    Lions will see few changes. Bigger if he doesn’t pass his HIA quickly replaced by Farrell. Bigger wasn’t great, Farrell was as poor as all tour. Finn is back training.
    Can see Harris replacing Daly. Sutherland might struggle to keep his place I fear. Hogg and Price especially should be shoo ins, Watson prob still bench but didn’t think Curries was great and 3 pens in 1st 10mins wasn’t a good look.

    If you think this week was dour limite drugby, expect next week to be more of the same only more so

  4. As good a report on the fixture that I have read in any media in which more than a few ‘experts’ are already advocating for changes in the 23 for the next Test. Across the board there are calls for Gatland to drop Daly and I can see why but even with the bias to argue the case for our players the call for Williams and Adams to come in for Hogg and VDM is difficult to understand especially when Daly, Henshaw and Watson [A] all had moments Henshaw failing to consider Price on his left and A N Other to his right, Daly who shouldn’t have got the shout over Harris regardless of whether he has a left boot 50 yarder or not. It is a bit harsh to criticise Liam Williams for mishandling box kicks, however he dropped more than Hogg did all match in his 5 minute Cameo, as for VDM hardly put a foot wrong and his follow up to the box kicks certainly put pressure on the SA defense.
    As regards Watson [H] arguably he was given the benefit: but, Le Roux didn’t land on his head or shoulder and HW didn’t drop Le Roux and those who were calling for a yellow or worse have been bemoaning Referee’s for offering up a card for similar offences when it suited them: I thought those factors would be an aspect that was taken into consideration. As an aside it wouldn’t be the first time that a quick thinker raised his leg above the 180 for effect: not that I am biased!
    In any event the pressure was on Marius Jonker and without doubt if any referral was a 50-50 call the aforementioned pressure would have made it difficult to call for the home side.

  5. Increasingly fed up with the obvious partisanship in the UK media and especially sky. Maybe my naivety but the way it works is that the pundit picks the good bits from his country and the bad bits from others so the gaps are emphasised. So if you watch Sky without proper scottish representation, you get a totally unbalanced view. I’m not sure about the Lions any more, in this professional era. On the other hand, it is clear that the Lions don’t need less Scots in the team – they need more – especially a fit Finn

    • Some, not all admittedly, of Will Greenwood’s comments make about as much sense as a 40+ year old wandering around with a Mohican hair cut, I just hope he is doing it for a bet and some Charity will get the benefit.

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