As Stewart Hogg booted the ball high into the stands and the final whistle blew, Maro Itoje was consumed in a hug by tour captain Alun Wyn Jones, his final act of a phenomenal 80 minutes helping to secure Lions the 22-17 win they so desired.
Itoje and his England colleague Courtney Lawes gave the Lions a huge platform for victory – even if the rub of the green on a disallowed try and no yellow card for Hamish Watson meant it was edgier than anyone would have liked. A try from Luke Cowan-Dickie, four penalties and a conversion from Dan Biggar and one from Owen Farrell secured a nervy win for the tourists.
Attention turns now to the second test and an opportunity for Warren Gatland’s men to repeat the success of the 1997 tourists and bring home a series win from South Africa…can the British and Irish Lions climb their Everest?
THE PRICE ISN’T RIGHT
Gatland has resisted making wholesale changes to his starting XV for the second test in Cape Town, making three swaps and changing the bench for the potential series-deciding fixture.
Mako Vunipola, Connor Murray and Chris Harris come into the line-up, replacing Rory Sutherland, Ali Price and Eliott Daly respectively, all three of whom move to the bench.
Vunipola’s impact in the first test coincided with a turn in fortunes for the Lions, while Chris Harris’ test debut is a move to bring greater physicality to the backline as the Boks throw the kitchen sink at the tourists, hoping to bring the series to one apiece.
Price will feel hard done by not to be starting, but Murray has years of experience in the test match cauldron and he’ll be keen to come away from his final tour with a victory.
On the bench, Talupe Faletau is selected ahead of Hamish Watson who found himself under scrutiny after avoiding what looked like a nailed-on yellow card for his hit on Willie Le Roux.
The Lions will hope to curb the penalty count, which made the halftime score a little edgy and to repeat the grit and desire of the second half last weekend to take an unassailable 2-0 lead going into the final test.
BOKS TO THE WALL
Like the Lions, South African head coach Jacques Nienaber makes three changes to his starting line-up, scrum machine Steven Kitshoff and fellow World Cup winner Frans Malherbe come into the front row, while Leicester Tigers’ monster No. 8 Jasper Wiese gets his first start.
Having seen the scrum fall apart in the second half and Kwagga Smith lose the physical battle, the Springboks selection brings some serious kilos into the side in what is a make or break fixture for the reigning world champions.
The fallout from the first test continued throughout the week with South African Water Boy Rassie Erasmus using a press conference, social media and video to criticise the Lions – suggesting that they were compromising the ‘integrity of the game’. At the same time, he laid into Hamish Watson for his challenge on Le Roux and Vunipola for picking up Cheslin Kolbe Mako felt was milking a mid-air collision a little too much, claiming the prop’s actions were “reckless and dangerous”.
VIDEO CREDIT: JJ – https://vimeo.com/user107832127
You’d have to be naïve to not see this as mind games from Erasmus. In taking the spotlight off his under pressure Springboks side and turning attention to the officiating and Lions’ conduct, he’s allowing the squad to prepare under the radar but whether it will have the desired effect or not remains to be seen.
Thanks once again to our We Love Sport Rugby Union expert Shôn Douglas for this preview blog.
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