Saturday, June 20, 2009
The much anticipated first Test of the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa kicked off in Durban earlier today at a packed Kingspark. The Springboks blundered an early lead to let the Lions back into the match, but did enough to come away with the 26-21 win.
Despite many predicting that the Boks would be rusty after a lack of match practice, they fired from the start as they charged over the line through captain John Smit, giving them the early ascendency.
Prop Beast Mtawaria put on a powerful display as he dominated English prop Phil Vickey, earning a handful of penalties, which Ruan Pienaar duly turned into points. Vickery was replaced by Adam Jones after 45 minutes, which immediately made a difference.
The first 60 minutes was all about the hosts, who powered to a 26-7 lead thanks to the Smit try, a pushover try from Heinrich Brussouw, and successful kicks from Pienaar and Francois Steyn.
They took their foot off the gas though, and along with some early substitutions, nearly allowed the Lions back into the match despite the large margin.
Two tries from Tom Croft and one by Mike Phillips set up a thrilling finish as the Lions came back excellently, producing a really exciting last ten minutes.
They came close to scoring on more than one occasion, with Ugo Monye being held up over the line, and then later having the ball knocked out of his arms from an excellent covering tackle by replacement flyhalf Morne Steyn.
The center pairing of Brian O'Driscoll were, as predicted, a powerful force as they caused chaos in the Bok ranks for a large part of the match.
While South Africa almost managed to blow their strong lead, it was the Lions who had over sixty percent of the possesion throughout the match, that they probably should have, and could have, turned into points.
This meeting of rugby giants is anything but a forgone conclusion, but the Lions now have an uphill battle as they'll need to win the next two matches to clinch the series.