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Lions suffer first loss as Erasmus' South Africa serve reminder of their class

Warren Gatland’s men were second best in an enthralling encounter in Cape Town.

South Africa A 17

Lions 13

THIS WAS THE Springboks in everything but name and this was a Test match in everything but name.

A superb first-half saw Rassie Erasmus’ side storm into a 17-3 lead at the break and they were able to see out victory without scoring again in an outstanding clash with the Lions in Cape Town, this high-quality encounter genuinely kick-starting the tour into life. 

maro-itoje-with-eben-etzebeth Maro Itoje looks to disrupt a South African maul. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It was an enthralling appetiser for the three-game Test series as the Boks showed few signs of last week’s enforced isolation in their hotel rooms to thunder into the Lions with trademark physicality and a high-pressure kicking game.

Munster’s Damian de Allende was superb for the South Africans, while Eben Etzebeth brought massive power in an impressive pack showing. Erasmus enjoyed the defensive might of his side from the sideline in his role as waterboy.

Warren Gatland’s men repeatedly knocked on the door and did mount something of a second-half rally but this was a stark reminder of the levels of brutality and accuracy they will need to hit come the Tests.

The scary thing is that captain Siya Kolisi, Makazole Mapimpi, Handré Pollard, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Duane Vermuelen, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, and Frans Steyn were among those missing here for the South Africans.

Gatland will likely welcome the fact that his side finally got a game on this tour after three facile victories over the Sigma Lions and Sharks. Some of his players put their hands firmly up for Tests starts – notably the relentless Tom Curry, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, and loosehead Wyn Jones, who was forced off injured.

Halfbacks Conor Murray and Owen Farrell struggled to provide control in the first half as they kicked poorly, but they improved after the break and their much better kicking game helped the Lions to draw themselves back to within four points. The Lions will also focus on their glaring breakdown issues as the South Africans made repeated turnovers.

There was to be no comeback victory and the Lions are left with plenty of work to do before the Test series, while the Boks served a reminder of their World Cup-winning qualities even without a host of key men.

ben-etzebeth-blocks-down-a-kick-from-owen-farrell Owen Farrell is blocked down by Eben Etzebeth for the Boks' first try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Boks laid down early physical markers and had some great success at the breakdown with two counter-rucking turnovers and a jackal steal from de Allende.

Steyn opened the scoring from the tee in the sixth minute just after Anthony Watson’s try-saving tackle on Sbu Nkosi in the left corner, while the Lions had some early frustrations down in the South Africans’ 22. 

It was Eben Etzebeth’s blockdown of a Farrell kick on his own 22-metre line that sparked the Boks’ first try, de Allende pouncing on the loose ball, feeding Nkosi on his outside, then running a clever line upfield to block Farrell’s retreating effort, allowing Nkosi to finish past Louis Rees-Zammit.

With Liam Williams forced off due to a head injury, Farrell missing touch with a penalty, and the Boks applying pressure with their sharp kicking game, the Lions were feeling the heat.

However, a massive scrum penalty on their five-metre lineout earned by loosehead prop Wyn Jones gave them some respite, and Gatland’s men were soon down the other end as two more Boks penalty concessions allowed Farrell to slot three points for 10-3.

The Lions’ poor kicking game continued to affect them as Murray sent one out on the full after strong South African maul defence before Elliot Daly – on for Williams – gave the Boks a prime counter-attacking chance.

faf-de-klerk-receives-a-yellow-card-from-jaco-peyper The Boks finished the first half with only 13 men. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

His exit from the Lions 22 found Kolbe just inside his own half wide on the right, from where he showed stunning footwork and acceleration to rinse Chris Harris on the outside and then offloaded out of Daly’s tackle back inside for captain Lukhanyo Am to score a 33th-minute try.

Steyn’s conversion left the Boks 17-3 in front and they retained their lead into the break after some sensational tryline defence. The penalty count racked up as they lost Faf de Klerk to the sin bin for not wrapping in a tackle and then Marco van Staden for hands in the ruck.

Incredibly, the Lions opted for another tap with the penalty after van Standen’s yellow – rather than a five-metre scrum that would have allowed them to exploit the space against 13 men – and they were denied when Jones was penalised for double movement as he looked to score.

The tourists were unsurprisingly quick out of the traps after half-time as they finally made the numerical advantage pay, with breaks from Rees-Zammit and Anthony Watson out wide leading to another close-range penalty.

Again, the Lions tapped it but this times Jones forced his way over – getting injured in the process – with a latch from Iain Henderson and Josh Navidi. Farrell converted for 17-10.

wyn-jones-scores-a-try Wyn Jones scores for the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

De Klerk returned from the bin as the Boks’ discipline continued to be an issue, a penalty on their 10-metre line resulting in Farrell kicking three points off the tee to draw the Lions back to 17-13.

The Lions’ kicking game was vastly improved and a long kick left Kolbe under pressure just in front of his own tryline, with replacement back row Sam Simmonds pouncing for the breakdown turnover.

The Lions went to their five-metre tap yet again, their dogged phase play eventually creating a chance wide on the left as Harris got a lovely pass away to Rees-Zammit, who came up just short as he stretched out in a bid to finish, only to be penalised for playing the ball on the ground after a TMO review.

The Boks soon had a chance to extend their lead after a tough penalty against Henderson at the lineout but out-half Steyn was wide to the left of the posts in the 63rd minute.

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Coming towards the closing 10 minutes, the Lions needed a massive maul turnover in their own 22 as Itoje and Curry continued to lead their resistance. 

Steyn had a drop-goal attempt with six minutes remaining, the Boks doing their utmost to pin the Lions in their own half, where sub lock Adam Beard was impressive in defence.

They Lions did get a late attacking chance in the South African half but replacement tighthead Zander Fagerson lost the ball in the carry.

South Africa A scorers:

Tries: Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am

Conversions: Morné Steyn [2 from 2]

Penalties: Morné Steyn [1 from 2]

Lions scorers:

Tries: Wyn Jones

Conversions: Owen Farrell [1 from 1]

Penalties: Owen Farrell [2 from 2]

SOUTH AFRICA A: Willie le Roux (Jesse Kriel ’54); Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Damian de Allende (Damian Willemse ’53), Sbu Nkosi; Morné Steyn, Faf de Klerk (yellow card ’39); Steven Kitshoff (Coenie Oosthuizen ’62), Joseph Dweba (Malcolm Marx ’39), Trevor Nyakane (Vincent Koch ’41); Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Marco van Staden (yellow card ’40) (Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg ’64), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Rynhardt Elstadt ’43), Jasper Wiese (Herschel Jantjies ’72).

LIONS: Liam Williams (Elliot Daly ’14); Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris, Bundee Aki, Anthony Watson; Owen Farrell, Conor Murray (captain) (Gareth Davies ’76); Wyn Jones (Mako Vunipola ’46), Ken Owens (Luke Cowan-Dickie ’51), Kyle Sinckler (Zander Fagerson ’63); Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson (Adam Beard ’63); Josh Navidi (Tadhg Beirne ’69), Tom Curry, Taulupe Faletau (Sam Simmonds ’48).

Referee: Jaco Peyper.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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