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British and Irish Lions: What the pundits said after first-Test win over South Africa

Sky Sports pundits Maggie Alphonsi, Sam Warburton, Sir Ian McGeechan and Bryan Habana pick out the key points from Lions and Springbok points of view following the first Test of the series which saw the tourists triumph 22-17

Last Updated: 25/07/21 7:06am

Maro Itoje impressed as the Lions took victory over South Africa in the first Test of the series

The British and Irish Lions took a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series against South Africa on Saturday with a 22-17 win over the hosts in Cape Town.

They had to do it tough though, fighting back from being 12-3 behind at half-time thanks to a try from Luke Cowan-Dickie and the goal-kicking of Dan Biggar.

Here, we look at what Sky Sports‘ pundits picked out as their key points from the match for both the Lions and the Springboks…

British and Irish Lions: What the pundits said after first-Test win over South Africa

Lions come back to beat Boks and go 1-0 up in series

The British and Irish Lions mounted a brilliant second-half comeback to beat South Africa 22-17 and go 1-0 up in the three-Test series.

Alphonsi: Itoje deserved man of the match

Hooker Cowan-Dickie and fly-half Biggar may have been the men who chalked up the points for the Lions, but it was the inspirational performance of Maro Itoje which helped lay the foundations for the win.

Itoje’s work at the breakdown to win crucial turnovers for the tourists and his efforts at the line-out stood out in particular for Maggie Alphonsi, and the former England Women back row was in no doubt he deserved to be named man of the match.

“His tackles, his commitment at the breakdown and his attitude into the game was at another level,” Alphonsi said. “I think he started the Test match ready for it and he finished above everyone else.

“Courtney Lawes also performed really well, but Itoje was the player who had presence in the line-out in particular and matched up Eben Etzebeth many times.

Following the British and Irish Lions' first Test win over South Africa, Maro Itoje says that these moments do not come around often and it's a privilege to wear the jersey

Sky Sports 1:17
Following the British and Irish Lions’ first Test win over South Africa, Maro Itoje says that these moments do not come around often and it’s a privilege to wear the jersey

Following the British and Irish Lions’ first Test win over South Africa, Maro Itoje says that these moments do not come around often and it’s a privilege to wear the jersey

“At the breakdown, he comes in at an angle where you just don’t see him coming and when he gets a hit and goes through the breakdown, he puts off players like Faf de Klerk from getting a really good, clean break.

“Everything he did was competitive, physical, he worked hard to the last play of the game and deserved to be man of the match.”

Warburton: Lawes the obvious choice for No. 6

There were some eyebrows raised when head coach Warren Gatland picked Courtney Lawes ahead of Tadhg Beirne at blindside flanker for the first Test, but the Northampton Saints man more than justified his place in the side with his performance.

Sam Warburton, who played alongside Lawes for the Lions on their tour of New Zealand four years ago and against him for Wales on several occasions, felt his work in attack and defence against the Springboks underlined why he was the right choice for the role.

Courtney Lawes says the exciting thing about this British and Irish Lions team is that they know they have got more to give following their first Test win over South Africa

Sky Sports 1:53
Courtney Lawes says the exciting thing about this British and Irish Lions team is that they know they have got more to give following their first Test win over South Africa

Courtney Lawes says the exciting thing about this British and Irish Lions team is that they know they have got more to give following their first Test win over South Africa

“Some people weren’t picking him for their Lions squads because he didn’t play for England in the Six Nations,” Warburton said. “I had him certainly in my squad; playing with and against him he’s certainly one man I’d always want in my squad.

“The way Gatland didn’t pick him for the last two games was kind of telling him he was going to be in the Test 23, without a doubt. He’s a brilliant line-out option – I’ve tried jumping against him and had absolutely no chance of getting near him.

“He’s a brilliant line-out athlete in attack and defence, and he sets the tone defensively with how hard he comes off the line. He’s carrying the ball a lot more than he used to in his earlier days.

“I just think he’s been a massive player for the Lions and when I heard he was playing No. 6, I thought ‘what an obvious choice’ because he’s the most physically dominant player we have out of the four countries.”

British and Irish Lions: What the pundits said after first-Test win over South Africa

Lions ratings: Itoje, Lawes, Furlong superb

Pick through the player ratings from the British and Irish Lions’ 22-17 comeback Test win vs the Springboks in Cape Town.

McGeechan: Lions tried to force it in first half

Although they secured a crucial first-Test win to gain a foothold in the three-match series, there were still several areas to work on for the Lions ahead of the next match against South Africa in Cape Town.

Sir Ian McGeechan, who coached the team against the Springboks on their 1997 and 2009 tours, felt the tourists were forcing things in the first 40 minutes, but was impressed with how they returned to what works best for them after the break.

“I think in the first half they were forcing it, got into contact one on one and lost that contact, and lost any momentum,” McGeechan said.

“In the second half, they got out of their own half structurally really well, the kicking game was excellent and so was the kick chase.

Warren Gatland says the first half between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa was incredibly physical but was delighted his side improved to claim the first Test of the series

Sky Sports 4:04
Warren Gatland says the first half between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa was incredibly physical but was delighted his side improved to claim the first Test of the series

Warren Gatland says the first half between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa was incredibly physical but was delighted his side improved to claim the first Test of the series

“Then when they got into South Africa’s half, they were playing the phases and that’s where South Africa kept giving penalties away really and giving the game away.

“But by the end, I thought they [South Africa] fell off their game anyway. I don’t think South Africa had the energy and the fitness to raise their level and match the way the Lions were playing.”

Habana: Boks need to look at how to finish off games

Conversely, the Springboks have it all to do as they aim to keep the series alive with victory in the second Test on Saturday, July 31 after letting a nine-point lead at half-time slip.

Former South Africa winger Bryan Habana was frustrated with how the Rugby World Cup holders lost their way in the second half, but praised the Lions for wresting back control of the contest.

British and Irish Lions: What the pundits said after first-Test win over South Africa

Nienaber: TMO correct to rule out Le Roux try

South Africa have backed the officials’ decision to chalk off Willie Le Roux’s potentially match-changing try in the 22-17 Test loss to the Lions.

“It was a really disappointing second half from a South African perspective,” Habana said. “Discipline is something the whole team will be needing to be looking after going into the second Test match.

“But the Lions are in the ascendancy in terms of their tactical kicking game.

“They contest extremely well, put the Springboks under pressure, and the Springboks really need to look at how they finish off games because the turnaround from the first half was really disappointing.”


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