The first Test of the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa got underway with a 22-17 win for the tourists in an intense, cagey affair. The Lions edged out the Springboks through a Luke Cowan-Dickie try as well as the boot of Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell. It was an impressive team performance but these were the top Lions performers.
Alun Wyn Jones
This week, the Welsh captain has frequently been compared to The Terminator in an attempt to provide an explanation for his durability. His miraculous comeback from a dislocated shoulder just over a month ago has somewhat overshadowed the arguably more impressive feat that he has been involved in every single Lions test match 23 since 2009. Essentially, he has been Britain and Ireland’s best for the last 12 years. He was absolutely ferocious in the first Test. He carried with real purpose and nailed the Springboks both sides of the ball. He was at the forefront of the physical assault launched at South Africa which propelled the Lions into the ascendency in the second half. As a captain, he made gutsy calls throughout, most notably the decision to turn down a shot at goal in favour of an attacking lineout which led to Luke Cowan-Dickie’s first half try. It was combative and aggressive test match rugby at its very best from Alun Wyn Jones.
Top Lions performers
Itoje was one of the top Lions performers to stand out, particularly in the first half where the Springboks were on top physically and controlling the game. The Saracen may not have been at his scintillating best in the tour’s earlier fixtures but was really firing on all cylinders in Test one. His breakdown work was exemplary, and he bailed the Lions out on multiple occasions. His most crucial intervention was a breakdown jackal turnover on his own five-metre line where a South Africa try looked more like an inevitability. Without that try saving involvement, the Lions would have been tasked with overturning a sizeable points deficit to make their way back into the game. Itoje was the deserved recipient of the Player of the Match award and has all but guaranteed himself a starting position next week.
How good was he? It was a fairly quiet first half from the Englishman but he more than made up for it in the second. Against the South African pack, it was always going to be a physical, abrasive Test match but Lawes was monstrous in response. Not many would have selected the Northampton man in the touring squad, let alone the first 15, but he more than justified his selection. Big tackle numbers, savage carries and massive metres made from the blindside. Huge match from Lawes.
The Scot has enjoyed an impressive rise in reputation in the last six months. Not many would have predicted that Price would be the number one choice at nine given the variety of potential players who could fulfill the role but the Glasgow Warrior was quietly very impressive and assured. His major contribution was with the boot. His box kicking was pinpoint accurate which allowed the Lions to make significant net gains in territory. There were points throughout the Test match where it felt as if the game could have slipped away from the Lions. But, with the help of Price’s kicking, it enabled them to establish a foothold on the game by stopping them from being pinned in their own half. It would not be a surprise to see Price start all three Tests in the series because he was a vital cog in the winning effort.
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