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Lawes, Itoje, and Conan to the fore as Lions pull off comeback win

The England lock was named player of the match.

Maro Itoje was named player of the match.
Maro Itoje was named player of the match.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

WHEN THE GOING got tough, several men in the Lions pack stood up to deliver dominant showings.

Maro Itoje was at it from the opening minutes, trading big hits with Eben Etzebeth and rescuing the Lions with crucial breakdown turnovers.

It was fitting that it was his turnover that allowed the Lions to put the final seal on their 22-17 victory in Cape Town.

Courtney Lawes had departed a few minutes beforehand to make way for Tadhg Beirne after emptying himself physically. He was the top tackler along with Itoje and the remarkable captain Alun Wyn Jones, who somehow went the full 80 minutes.

Lawes rarely let up in the physicality he brought, with a big second-half linebreak eventually leading on to three crucial Lions points. 

“I thought Courtney’s lineout stuff was good,” said Gatland after his side’s win. “Great carries and footwork.

“Maro’s had one turnover from one big carry where he’s probably gone in too high but he’s worked incredibly hard. As players, they all put in a really big shift.

“The bench I thought was great for us. The impact of our bench was probably more significant than theirs. That was pleasing and then the energy of the staff and players in the stands, encouraging our boys on turnovers or anything that was positive. That was immense as well.”

Indeed, the front row of Mako Vunipola, Ken Owens, and Kyle Sinckler was key in helping the Lions to victory after replacing Rory Sutherland, Luke Cowan-Dickie, and Tadhg Furlong, who left nothing out on the pitch.

hamish-watson-and-jack-conan-celebrate-after-the-game Jack Conan [right] was impressive for the Lions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Lions starting number eight Jack Conan was similarly tireless, with his 12 carries leaving him top of that particular Lions chart and helping to fully justify his selection ahead of the more experienced Taulupe Faletau.

“Jack did what he does well and the reason we picked him – he doesn’t make mistakes,” said Gatland.

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“He’s incredibly accurate. He takes those kick-offs, he’s got some good footwork, he got us some go-forward, and does a lot of the unspectacular stuff that you need in a forward pack to get the balance right. 

“You’ve got guys who carry a bit more and stuff, but we were really pleased with Jack’s performance. It was incredibly solid and he has just continued to improve and improve in this environment.

“He’s like a sponge in terms of gaining knowledge. He asks really, really good questions, he takes on information well, so we’re really pleased with his development.

“The first game he played, he was incredibly nervous about the first hit-out and he’s one of those players who does get pretty nervy before a game but this week he seemed a lot calmer and a lot more assured. 

“That has given him a lot of confidence and self-belief in his own performances.”

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