It was a dour Test dominated by kicking but a strong second half saw the British & Irish Lions claim a 22-17 victory.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber said the British & Irish Lions outplayed them in the second half by dominating the aerial battle, which is something the South Africans can fix before next week's second Test in the Castle Lager Lions Series.
Nienaber reflected on the 22-17 defeat by his team at Cape Town Stadium and said the visitors’ second half effort was telling.
“The kicking game was won by us in the first half and we got the rewards, but the second half was a different story,” said Nienaber.
“They won that battle and it gave them territory, advantage in broken field play and we had to scramble, and could not cope.”
Nienaber felt the Boks’ 12-3 lead at half-time was deserved, but he did not expect the Lions to bounce back in the second half the way they did.
“We were nine points up, so things were working for us – we were playing in the right areas,” he said.
“Our half-time talk was to step up at the breakdown and then our discipline fell away. We started to make mistakes, especially at maul time. We did not make the step-up needed when required.
“We can certainly salvage this. A proper review is needed, but we can sort it out, no doubt. It worked in the first half, and I believe what happened in the second half is fixable.”
The Springboks had three tries awarded, but two were cancelled after the intervention from the TMO. Nienaber had no issue with that.
Due to the pandemic the match was played in cape Town with no crowd
“I completely trust the officials, that is their jobs, they are the professionals in that field,” he said.
“They are in a better position and have many angles to look at. Sometimes these calls go against you, as we found out today. In the second half we had three try scoring opportunities, twice we were called back. Those is the small margins in this game.”
Nienaber refused to blame the potential impact of the COVID pandemic in his team on the defeat.
“We did not play a lot of rugby together, but we still had good cohesion in the first half. What happened in the second half was not because of COVID, we lost the battle in the air.
“They kicked a lot and we planned for it. It worked in the first half and in the second half it did not. Our execution was not as good.”
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi lamented the lack of execution and agreed with Nienaber that the effects of COVID had no bearing on the result.
“We did not get the maul going, and we need to look at that,” said Kolisi.
“They won the crucial balls in the air and the scraps that comes from that. Well done to them. We are back at work tomorrow and will start fixing what we need to.”
South Africa 17 (Try: De Klerk; Pens: Pollard 4) British and Irish Lions 22 (Try: Cowan-Dickie;
Con: Biggar; Pens: Biggar 4, Farrell 1)
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Albertus Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 19 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Liam Williams.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)