One down, two to play. There were moments when the British & Irish Lions were swaying on the brink but, to their immense collective credit, they dug in to secure the most priceless of first Test victories. Not for 83 years have the Lions overturned a bigger half-time deficit against major southern hemisphere opposition and a first series win in South Africa this century is now a mere 80 minutes away.
Few could have foreseen the final outcome when South Africa trotted in 12-3 ahead at the interval with their so-called ‘Bomb Squad’ available to rumble on in the second half. Instead the Boks’ best-laid plans blew up in their faces as the Lions superior fitness and the home side’s recent shortage of match practice combined to turn the contest completely. Warren Gatland’s selection and modus operandi, not for the first time, proved spot on.
It was hard to single out a single Lions hero among many but Courtney Lawes was colossal and Maro Itoje made the kind of all-round impact that England have almost come to take for granted. As the final quarter wore on there was increasingly only one likely winner, even if a disallowed try for Damian de Allende, rightly ruled out for a Cheslin Kolbe knock-on, momentarily had Lions’ hearts in mouths.
The only pity was that there was no sea of red fans here to witness this historic comeback. The weather was spectacularly good, the view out to sea shimmeringly gorgeous and the sense of expectation immense. 그리고 아직. If ever a rugby match needed a crowd this was it; instead the empty bowl of the stadium stood silent sentry and the Lions could only imagine what might have been decibel-wise.
Unlike the 2019 Rugby World Cup final for England, 그러나, there was to be a seriously happy ending from unpromising beginnings. The Lions won the second half 19-5 and taught their opponents a lesson or two in resilience and nerve, albeit with some assistance from the South African TMO Marius Jonker who was involved in three pivotal second-half referrals. The Boks were awarded one score but were only a hair’s breadth away from a second try when Willie Le Roux was adjudged to be fractionally in front of Lukhanyo Am when the latter kicked ahead, the benefit of the doubt going to the defending side.
In the 50th minute, 그러나, the Lions were not so fortunate. A mistimed kick-chase allowed Pieter Steph du Toit to turn and find significant space and after Makazole Mapimpi had kicked ahead the officials decided the bouncing ball had not brushed Du Toit’s hand prior to Faf De Klerk touching down what proved to be his side’s solitary try. Handré Pollard’s conversion was missed but, at 17-10, the Boks must have fancied finishing the job with relatively little fuss.
Instead they paid the price for not ramming home their first-half advantage against a Lions side disrupted by injury before the game when Wyn Jones was forced to withdraw with a shoulder problem. Rory Sutherland was promoted from the bench, ensuring four Scots would be involved in a Lions starting XV for the first time in the professional era.
The Boks also did their best to unsettle their visitors immediately prior to kick off when they briefly delayed their entrance and then emerged amid a bonfire night fusillade of fireworks. The first half-hour, 그러나, was massively cagey, all hanging kicks and exploratory body shots. The Lions had few opportunities to gather much consistent momentum and when they did seek to move the ball the Boks were ready and waiting.
The first-half pressure on the Lions, consequently, began to build. Tom Curry gave away a couple of penalties, both comfortably slotted by Pollard, and by the half-hour mark the hosts were already 12-3 up. Luke Cowan-Dickie was having problems locating his lineout jumpers and when he tried a quick one at the front to Sutherland it was rightly brought back for not being straight.
Luckily for his team, Itoje made a couple of crucial jackal turnovers which offered some temporary respite but this was a day when the Lions needed to take even the slightest chance available to them. At times they struggled to do so: Dan Biggar and Daly saw kicks at goal fly wide and fall short respectively and Robbie Henshaw, carrying one handed down the middle, had the ball dislodged just as he was looking to find Ali Price on his inside.
It was easy to imagine the nervousness on sofas at home, the Springboks defence having done an expert job of squashing any red-shirted optimism, but a renewed sense of Lions urgency was immediately evident at the start of the second half. A kick to the corner showed much-needed intent and the subsequent lineout drive was perfectly coordinated, with a burrowing Cowan-Dickie at the bottom of the pile.
It was the prelude to the most gripping of finales, with Biggar chipping over three penalties to put his side ahead by two points with 17 남은 시간(분). Could they hang on? Amazingly it was the Lions’ forward replacements who seemed to have more impact as the Bok set-piece increasingly huffed and puffed and the momentum shifted. With a dazed Biggar off the field, it fell to Owen Farrell, with his side’s fifth penalty, to apply the coup de grace which sets up the series brilliantly. No spectators, no deafening noise but, against all odds, a Lions Test win to echo down the ages.