Scots step up in victorious first Lions test of South Africa Series
Five Scots saw Test match action tonight in Cape Town as the British & Irish Lions made a triumphant start to the three test series through a 22-17 victory over world champions South Africa.
And the Scots - Stuart Hogg, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Ali Price, Rory Sutherland and substitute Hamish Watson were hailed by former Scotland captain John Barclay for a stellar contribution.
Speaking on BBC Radio, Barclay praised the Scots execution of basic skills under pressure.
"Their nuts and bolts were excellent," he said.
The fixture featured the most Scottish players in a Lions matchday Test squad since the 1989 tour of Australia.
Following in the footsteps of Alan Tait, Tom Smith and Gregor Townsend who were the last three Scottish players to start for the Lions in a Test back in 1997, the Lion’s came away with the win against the current World champions.
But it certainly wasn’t an easy ride.
The opening minutes saw an exciting battle for the ball between van der Merwe and Cheslin Kolbe following a Lions line-out, a thrilling start to the game.
van der Merwe and Hogg were further involved in flurries of action in the first 40 minutes, gathering kicks from Fafe de Klerk’s boot and making a couple of exciting bursts through the wall of green players, but the Springbok’s determined outlook thwarted their opportunities.
Despite a bright start, a lack of discipline from the Lions in the first half saw the Springboks dominate with possesion (57%) and further rewarded handsomely, securing 12 points in penalties to the Lions three points.
The second half of action was much more gratifying for the tourists as they displayed a transformational performance.
A driving maul at 43 minutes led by the forward pack, including Sutherland and support from Price, saw Luke Cowan Dickie reach over the try line to claim the first five points of the game.
It wasn't long however until the hosts responded. Just four minutes later, Willie le Roux crossed the whitewash only for the try to be disallowed by the TMO.
Coming off the bench at 55 minutes, Hamish Watson replaced Tom Curry making him the first Scottish back-row to taste Test action since Finlay Calder and Derek White in the third Test against Australia in 1989.
Having perfectly executed all 39 tackles made in the warm-up fixtures, after just a few minutes on the pitch Watson conceded a penalty following a dubious hit on le Roux.
However, Watson more than made up for this in the remaining 15 minutes with some powerful carries and defensive support.
Whilst Watson came onto the pitch, Sutherland made his exit, replaced by Manu Vunipola after a valiant 55-minute performance in the front-row.
Shortly after being joined by Watson on the pitch, van der Merwe was in action chasing down a kick from Dan Biggar, making his way to the Springbok’s try line. Unfortunately, the TMO called a knock-on from contest between the winger and Robbie Henshaw in the air, taking the players back for a South African scrum.
The Lions finally took the lead at 62 minutes with a further three points scored by Biggar following a driving maul brought down by the Bok's.
Price’s calm yet speedy delivery of the ball and impressive box-kicking throughout the game played a huge part in bringing the Lions back into the game before he was replaced by Connor Murray after 63 minutes of action.
Making six tackles, Price was placed in the top five tacklers of the game.
Gathering their own restart after Owen Farrel put three more points on the board, the Lions had to work tremendously hard to hold back the Springbok’s as they entered the Lions 22 in the final minutes of the game.
Maro Itoje recovered the ball on the floor, and the team began the search for Hogg’s boot to kick the ball away for a Lion’s victory.