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British and Irish Lions: Maro Itoje’s performance in first Test win was his ‘best game’, says Warren Gatland

Maro Itoje was named man of the match for his display in the first Test; the Lions came from behind to beat South Africa 22-17 in Cape Town on Saturday; watch the second Test live on Sky Sports from 4pm on Saturday

Last Updated: 28/07/21 1:44pm

Maro Itoje has 48 caps for England

Warren Gatland has hailed Maro Itoje’s “incredibly mature” performance in the British and Irish Lions’ first Test victory over South Africa as the best match of the England lock’s career.

Itoje was at his dominant best as the Lions turned a 12-3 half-time deficit on its head to topple the world champions 22-17 in Cape Town on Saturday.

The 26-year-old second row spearheaded the Lions’ devastating tight-five work, leaving head coach Gatland heaping praise on the Saracens star.

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“To me that’s probably the best game I’ve seen him play in any sort of jersey,” said Gatland.

“We all know the energy he brings to a game and how enthusiastic he is, and sometimes that’s probably been to his detriment because he has been guilty in the past of giving away penalties and probably pushing the limits but I thought we saw an incredibly mature performance last weekend.”

Episode 7 of the British & Irish Lions' weekly series gives a unique behind-the-scenes insight into life in camp as they prepare to take on South Africa. Many thanks to Lions Rugby for sharing the Ultimate Test with us

Sky Sports 16:02
Episode 7 of the British & Irish Lions’ weekly series gives a unique behind-the-scenes insight into life in camp as they prepare to take on South Africa. Many thanks to Lions Rugby for sharing the Ultimate Test with us

Episode 7 of the British & Irish Lions’ weekly series gives a unique behind-the-scenes insight into life in camp as they prepare to take on South Africa. Many thanks to Lions Rugby for sharing the Ultimate Test with us

Luke Cowan-Dickie’s try, 14 points from Dan Biggar’s boot and a match-securing penalty from Owen Farrell ensured the Lions kick-started the three-Test series in style.

The frustrated Springboks will be desperate to sharpen up for Saturday’s second encounter however, with the Lions well aware of the hosts’ desperation.

But Gatland’s men now have the chance to seal a first series win over the Boks since 1997, teeing up a tense tussle this weekend.

Scotland centre Chris Harris admits he was taken aback by the news that he had been picked to start for the Lions in the second Test against South Africa

Sky Sports 0:31
Scotland centre Chris Harris admits he was taken aback by the news that he had been picked to start for the Lions in the second Test against South Africa

Scotland centre Chris Harris admits he was taken aback by the news that he had been picked to start for the Lions in the second Test against South Africa

Itoje will once again prove central to the Lions’ chances and Gatland expects the England lock to continue his razor-sharp decision making.

“I thought it was an excellent performance; I made a joke on Monday that it was the first time in about 360-odd games that Maro Itoje hadn’t given away a penalty,” said Gatland.

“I spoke to him as well, and said maybe the penny has finally dropped.

“I thought his decision making around the game in terms of when he went for things, when he decided to leave things alone, I kind of felt in the past he’s chased lost causes and gone after things he didn’t need to do and probably wasted a lot of energy.

“But I thought on Saturday his decision making about when to go after something, counter-ruck at the breakdown and the line-out stuff, was actually outstanding.”

Beirne looking to make second Test impact

Tadhg Beirne, who starts Saturday’s second Test against South Africa from the bench once again, hopes to help the Lions secure an unassailable 2-0 series lead in Cape Town.

Tadhg Beirne is among the Lions replacements for Saturday's second Test

Tadhg Beirne is among the Lions replacements for Saturday’s second Test

Beirne replaced Courtney Lawes in the second half of the opening Test, and while the flanker would love to start against the Springboks, he is hoping to have an impact off the bench once more.

Speaking on Will Greenwood’s Lions podcast, Beirne said: “It would be silly for me to expect to start, given how well the boys played.

“A realistic hope would be to be involved again. Hopefully I get a decent spell, if I am on the bench – have some kind of impact in the game, and come away with the win.

“We’d love to put the series away this weekend – we’re certainly confident we can do it again. It would be something worth celebrating.”


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