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THIS IS THEIR Everest. The first Test of any Lions series is always hotly anticipated but the hype leading into today’s game in Cape Town has been off the charts.

Where do you even start? There is the brave selection by the Springboks to go with seven players in their squad who recently tested positive for Covid.

Among them are Siya Kolisi, their World Cup winning captain, and Makazole Mapimpi, the brilliant winger. They have only one week of training under their belt since returning from isolation. Bongi Mbonambi and Ox Nche have little more.

On the plus side, 17 of their 23-man squad played in the World Cup final. The Lions meanwhile lost Wyn Jones earlier today to an injury. They also lost their captain to injury and then got him miraculously back; they appointed Conor Murray as their stand-in captain when Alun Wyn Jones was originally injured; Murray only makes the bench today.

There has been a war of words between Warren Gatland and Rassie Erasmus; Erasmus has become the most famous waterboy since Adam Sandler starred in the film of the same name; the Lions are huffing over the fact the TMO is a South African.

Gatland went on to say the Boks’ ego has been dented; the Boks yesterday fired back and said it hasn’t. Well, Dana White or Don King would struggle to sell  a scrap as well as this crowd has. Get ready for action. We will be going minute by minute. As always, please let us know what you think will happen in the comments section below.

Here are your teams for today’s game.

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane; Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Kwagga Smith.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.

LIONS: Stuart Hogg; Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong; Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams.

Referee: Nic Berry [Rugby Australia].

If you fancy some reading before today’s match, you can get Murray Kinsella’s big match preview here and also an interview with Jeremy Davidson, a hero on the 1997 Lions tour of South Africa here.

Gregor Townsend gives some last-minute advice to Robbie Henshaw.

gregor-townsend-with-robbie-henshaw Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Interesting column here from Joe Marler in today’s Times of London.

This line on Warren Gatland was interesting: ‘One thing I know about the team is that Gatland will have them at exactly the right emotional pitch.

‘He is brilliant at that, both in what he says to the squad but also the little one-on-one talks he will have with each player in the build-up to the game. He would have loved how tasty that training session got on Tuesday afternoon, with the non-selected boys flying in and a bit of push and shove. It showed him the lads are not in a mood to back down.’

But I particularly enjoyed this one about the dirttrackers on the 2017 tour.

‘In New Zealand we were able to go out for a few beers to get over the frustration of not being picked but in South Africa they can’t even escape the bubble.

‘It is always a bit awkward being the third wheel on tour. I remember Graham Rowntree, our scrum coach, had the two Test front rows scrummaging against each other before the series decider against New Zealand. Meanwhile, Dan Cole, Rory Best and I were on the touchline trying to do kick-ups. I think we were still half-cut. Sir Best definitely would have been. Rowntree — “Wig”, as he is known — saw us and was like, “Stop pratting about and come over here”. He swapped us in for a scrum against the starting Test front row of Mako, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong — and we hosed them.’

Big words here from Robin McBryde, the Lions’ forwards coach: “What we were keen to stress, in the scrum in particular, is we’re not looking to match them. We’re looking to go beyond that really.”

National anthem time.

We are underway.

1 minute – De Klerk’s box-kick finds touch. Lions win line-out and Biggar goes to the sky. Chaos ensues but Boks get a penalty.

2 minutes – So Van der Merwe has the height on Kolbe. Good chance we’ll be seeing that contest again.

3 minutes – De Klerk goes to the skies; so does Ali Price. Van der Merwe wins his aerial battle in defence, Curry’s pressure leads to a Lions lineout. Lions winning battle in the air so far. Elliot Daly, meanwhile, has just been creamed.

6 minutes – Kolbe takes great catch in the air; Hogg then gets the chance to counter-attack but Boks’ counter ruck gives the possession. Ox Nché, Damian de Allende make good carries but de Klerk fumbles and Hogg clears.

7 minutes – It’s intense so far; certainly not pretty but the aggression from both sides has been something else. Lions line-out is certainly working so far; Courtney Lawes taking a decent catch there. Lions get a penalty from this department and Biggar is heading towards the 22.

8.30 minutes – Lions knock it on; but the quality of their handling up to then was decent – Price, Henshaw, Watson and Curry involved. Scrum now.

10 minutes – Boks edge the first scrum – second one coming up now.

11 minutes – Ref Nic Berry had awarded the Boks a penalty. Advantage was played, Boks ended up losing the ball and watching anxiously as Hogg’s kick went over their end-goal line.

13 minutes – De Klerk’s grubber kick was gathered by Watson who was facing his own goal line and then weaved his way out of trouble. However, from the following phase, the Boks get a penalty which is within kickable distance. And yes, they are going for the posts.

14 MINUTES (PENALTY SOUTH AFRICA) Handré Pollard nails the kick

South Africa 3-0 Lions

15 minutes Itoje’s carry is met by Eben Etzebeth’s resistance. Scrum awarded to the Boks. A small victory but psychologically, that was a blow to the Lions. De Klerk then puts in a superb angled kick and the Lions are under pressure from this tactical kicking game.

17 minutes PENALTY SOUTH AFRICA South Africa 6-0 Lions (Pollard)

So Curry’s late tackle on De Klerk results in a penalty being awarded where De Klerk’s kick landed. Pollard now is lining up a kick at goal and he strokes it over.

20 minutes PENALTY LIONS (Biggar) South Africa 6-3 Lions

Penalty awarded to the Lions. Biggar lining up a kick at goal. Easy for him.

21 minutes Jack Conan puts in a decent carry; Itoje then makes a brilliant turnover; Cowan-Dickie carries and Biggar kicks it high but just when it looks like the Lions are building some momentum, Itoje then ignores ref Berry’s instruction to release Pollard. Penalty to Boks, they go into the Lions 22.

22 minutes Boks get a charge on; but Itoje redeems himself by getting over the ball and winning a breakdown penalty.

23 minutes – On one side of the pitch, Anthony Watson makes a great take in the sky; at the other side, a scrap breaks out between two players. It isn’t deemed serious. Instead, the Boks have a scrum just outside the Lions’ 22.

26 minutes – PENALTY SOUTH AFRICA BOKS 9-3 LIONS (Pollard)

Kolbe gets the ball in hand; Ox Nché is tackled by Furlong; Daly then goes off his feet and the Boks have a penalty. Pollard could knock this over in his sleep. He makes no mistake.

29 minutes – Another breakdown penalty won by South Africa, Pollard has a kick from 45 metres here.

30 minutes – PENALTY SOUTH AFRICA (Pollard) Boks 12-3 Lions

Pollard makes no mistake. He has four from four.

32 minutes Penalty goes to the Lions; Conan had made a fine line-break, his best of the match, the Lions then got across the field with some good handling but they never made much distance; the Boks’ defence has been brilliant thus far. Still, Lions get territory from the penalty. Their line-out is a mess, however. Cowan-Dickie is getting a bit panicky.

35 minutes – Furlong wins a scrum penalty. Lions lining up a shot at goal from it. That was the best moment of the half from one of the three Irish starters; indeed from the entire Lions side.

36 MINUTES – PENALTY is missed by Biggar. That could be crucial. It was a tricky angle but hardly beyond the Welshman.

37 minutes Another scrum goes the Lions’ way – just outside the Boks’ 22. Pollard was a little unfortunate to be pinged for that.

38 minutes TMO has called a high tackle on Ox Nché on Alun Wyn Jones half-way. Biggar wants to go to the corner but Daly puts his hand up. It is a 55m kick.

PENALTY just falls short fro Daly.

40 minutes – Henshaw makes a brilliant break from half-way, he gets into the 22 and then Willie le Roux puts in a key tackle. South Africa looked sure to cough up points.

42 minutes Scrum goes down. Re-set by Berry.

And Sutherland is pinged. Good work there by Trevor Nyakane. Boks could go for the half-time break but instead kick to half-way. They fancy getting another score here as the clock ticks on past 43 minutes.

43 minutes This time de Klerk does kick it out. Half-time, 12-3 to the Boks.

HALF-TIME SOUTH AFRICA 12-3 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS

At this stage, Gatland’s big gamble has not worked. Sutherland, Cowan-Dickie, Alun Wyn, Ali Price, Elliot Daly – they were all big calls. None have set the world alight. However when you look at the Lions bench, you can’t help think that when Mako, Jamie George, Sinckler, Henderson and Tadhg Beirne get on, the Boks could tire and get caught in the final quarter. So far, it has been intense, the Boks kicking four from four, the Lions one from three. It isn’t over yet.

Here is the key moment from that first-half when Henshaw’s break was interrupted by Willie le Roux’s superb covering tackle.

robbie-henshaw-loses-the-ball-as-he-is-tackled-by-willie-le-roux Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

42 minutes – Second half under way and Willie Le Roux’s hesitancy is caught out and the Lions have a penalty which takes them to the 22. All eyes now on Cowan-Dickie  who finds Itoje at the front; ball is recycled and Alun Wyn Jones, Lawes, Conan, Cowan-Dickie carry. Price then feeds Henshaw who changes direction – eventually resulting in a penalty to the Lions as Henshaw is caught with a high tackle.

44 minutes – TRY LIONS (Cowan-Dickie)

Cowan-Dickie throws to the back this time and Lawes takes it; driving maul is brilliant and Cowan-Dickie touches down.

45 MINUTES CONVERSION LIONS (Biggar) Boks 12-10 Lions

Clever captaincy from Jones; he went to the corner when he had the option of an easy three points. Risk gets reward. Game on. Lions have started this second half on fire.

TMO checking whether Willie le Roux’s try was legitimate.

46 minutes TRY RULED OUT

Ref Berry’s onfield decision was try. However, TMO says De Allende’s pass to Lukhanyo Am was good rather than forward; Am subsequently kicked forward and Le Roux was adjudged to be ahead of Am when the kick was made. So, no try. Big, big call.

48 minutes – Good scrum from the Boks leads to De Klerk and Pollard combining well, Le Roux kicking to the sky, de Klerk eventually touching down. TMO is intervening again. On field decision is try.

TRY SOUTH AFRICA DE KLERK South Africa 17-10 Lions

51 minutes – Boks 17-10 Lions

So Pollard threw a crazy pass; somehow from being 60 metres from the Lions line, Pieter-Steph du Toit made a break; Makazole Mapimpi kicked forward, du Toit did not handle the ball perfectly but the TMO ruled that it was not knocked on. Mapimpi was then held up by Hogg but ball fell loose to de Klerk who touched down. Pollard misses the conversion.

52 minutes PENALTY LIONS (Biggar) Boks 17-13 Lions

Penalty awarded after Kwagga Smith was pinged at the breakdown.

55 minutes – PENALTY LIONS (BIGGAR) Boks 17-16 Lions

Penalty awarded to the Lions – again in front of the posts – 11 phases of fine play; Lawes made two huge carries. The Boks get panicky and infringe each time the Lions keep ball. Biggar kicks his goal.

57 minutes – Lions looking fitter and sharper here; Furlong made a nice intervention there, tidying up a loose ball. Lions playing at a tempo here that the Boks are struggling with. Game on a knife edge. Scrum to Lions just inside the Boks’ half.

58 minutes Vunipola and George are on for Sutherland and Cowan-Dickie. Watson has replaced Curry.

60 minutes – Knock-on given against the Lions – Henshaw and van der Merwe both jumped for Biggar’s high ball, Henshaw ruled to have knocked it on.

61 minutes – So, the Lions have really had the edge in this second-half; they are playing with much greater intensity and speed. Lawes has been exceptional.

Apologies for earlier mistake – Owens rather than George has replaced Cowan-Dickie.

62 minutes – PENALTY LIONS (Biggar) Boks 17-19 Lions

Lions have won six penalties in the second half. Biggar kicks it. Lions are kicking better; retaining possession better, playing better. Conor Murray has just come on for the Lions.

64 minutes – penalty awarded to the Boks after Hamish Watson made a stupid tackle on Le Roux, lifting him dangerously. TMO looking at it.

64 minutes – Watson is lucky to get away from that. No card.

65 minutes – shades of ’97 as Pollard misses his second kick in a row. Lions have this if they keep their nerve. They have been the better team by far in this second half. Farrell has come on for Daly who had a poor game.

66 minutes – Scrum to the Springboks just inside the Lions half. Furlong has just gone off; Sinckler has come on.

67 minutes – Just as South Africa were looking good, De Allende, Pollard and de Klerk combining nicely, Robbie Henshaw puts in a huge tackle on Lukhanyo Am and the Lions have a scrum.

67 minutes – Elliot Daly has come back on for Biggar who has gone off for a HIA. It is now Farrell at 10, Henshaw at 12, Daly at 13.

67 minutes – Scrum penalty for the Lions. Vunipola, Sinckler and Owens celebrate wildly.

68 minutes – Lawes takes it at the front, maul makes yards but then Owens is forced into touch. Each team will take something from that passage of play.

70 minutes – Fascinating kicking battle just there – Hogg kicked brilliantly to the corner, Kolbe eventually bangs a kick back upfield and Ken Owens takes it on the snout.

71 minutes De Allende is the latest South African to have his try checked by the TMO but the onfield decision is a try.

71 MINUTES TRY DISALLOWED – Kolbe ruled to have bounced the ball down onto the ground after competing with Liam Williams in the air.

72 minutes – The Lions’ scrum has been excellent since the replacement front row came on; Lions had decent position but Farrell kicked it away. He has not found form on this tour at all.

73 minutes – Beirne has come on to replace Lawes – who had a superb game. Stat there shows that Jack Conan has made more carries than any other Lions player. He just made another one. Lions have a scrum 40 yards from the Boks line.

76 minutes – Lions now have a line-out just outside the Boks’ 22. They are in control here.

77 minutes – Itoje takes it at the front; maul wins a penalty, du Toit the culprit. Farrell has a shot at goal. Get it and there will be five points between them with just a couple of minutes to go.

78 MINUTES PENALTY LIONS (Farrell) Boks 17-22 Lions

Farrell kicks it from a tricky angle.

One minute and thirty seconds to go.

Boks win the restart.

Kolisi carries into the Lions 22

Thirty seconds to go, Boks still with the ball.

De Allende carries, siren goes, clock in the red

Hogg clears it. GAME OVER. LIONS HAVE WON.

FULL-TIME SOUTH AFRICA 17-22 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS

Full-time: South Africa 17-22 British and Irish Lions

Half-time: South Africa 12-3 Lions

Second-half: Boks 5-19 Lions

South Africa 17-22 Lions

Fitness wins. The bench made a difference, the big calls went the Lions way as well, it has to be said. The Irish contingent all made decent contributions, Henshaw’s first half break made the team remember they had quality in their ranks and the right to play this game on their terms.

The Lions played at a much faster tempo in the second half and the Boks – with just one Test since the World Cup – ran out of steam. Courtney Lawes was superb; Alun Wyn Jones had a much better second half. Still, there is room for improvement. Daly, Price, Curry and Cowan-Dickie will worry about their place for next week.

1-0 to the Lions. A lot of rugby still to play.

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About the author:

Garry Doyle

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