Lions overcome Springboks 22-17 in 1st test

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The British and Irish Lions shrugged off a shoddy first half to overcome world champion South Africa 22-17 in their tense first test of three at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

The Lions responded to trailing 12-3 at halftime with a bolder, disciplined and tactically superior second half. What also came to fruition was their belief they had better fitness and a better bench.

The Lions out-scored the Springboks 19-5 in the second half, grabbed the lead for the first time in the 62nd minute and held on.

The teams scored a try each, both in the third quarter, and South Africa had two other tries ruled out.

The Lions were under the most pressure to take advantage of a South Africa side which was on ice for 19 months and playing only its second test since winning the Rugby World Cup in November 2019. The Lions have never won a series in South Africa after losing the first test, but can now look with confidence at beating the Springboks in a series for the first time in 24 years.

Alun Wyn Jones, ruled out of the tour four weeks ago by a dislocated shoulder, showed the value of his four-tour experience and leadership at the start of the second half when he waived off a kickable penalty to go for an attacking lineout.

South Africa had a fresh front row on, but Courtney Lawes made the catch and the Lions out-muscled the Boks by mauling it over the tryline, hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie the scorer. Dan Biggar converted and the Lions confidence was spiking at only two points behind.

Luck then fell on the Lions, ironically from South African official Marius Jonker, the TMO foisted on the series only last week. The Lions were worried about perceived bias but Jonker wiped out a try by Willie le Roux when he believed the Boks fullback was ahead of a chip by Lukhanyo Am. The video evidence wasn't obvious.

But the Boks were awarded their first try minutes later when flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit counterattacked from deep, wing Makazole Mapimpi chipped ahead, the ball bounced off du Toit's calf and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk scored.

Handre Pollard didn't convert, his first miss in five goalkicks, and the Boks led 17-10 with 30 minutes to go.

But despite the broken-field try, the Lions had their act together as they sent on experienced reserves, six of which played in the 2017 third test against New Zealand. The difference was marked. Their set-piece was no longer shaky, the kicking game was accurate, and their discipline tighter.

South Africa's discipline slipped as the Lions improved and the tension ramped up. As the Boks conceded five penalties in a row midway through the half, Biggar kicked three of them between the posts to put the Lions in front by 19-17.

The Springboks' match fitness had been a concern but it appeared unfounded when center Damian de Allende, after tackling Biggar out of the game, produced a try in the 72nd. It was canceled, however, after a knock on by Cheslin Kolbe was found in the buildup.

Owen Farrell kicked a late penalty to pile more pressure on the desperate Boks, who were well contained.

The first half, however, was South Africa's.

After Pollard led them out on the occasion of his 50th test, he got their first points from two penalties thanks to two errors by Lions flanker Tom Curry, then two more after ruck offenses.

Biggar's first penalty got the Lions started, then brilliant lock Maro Itoje made the biggest of his two turnovers in the half when Boks captain Siya Kolisi charged from a lineout to the Lions tryline and Itoje covered the ball from de Klerk for a relieving penalty.

Quick hands gave Lions center Robbie Henshaw space to beat Kolisi on the outside and streak to the tryline only to lose the ball when he was tackled from behind by le Roux. South Africa had most of the breaks but halftime ended its momentum.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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