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Lions defeat to South Africa ‘A’ was ‘the hit-out we needed’, says Conor Murray 

South Africa A 17 British & Irish Lions 13


Losing feeling: The British & Irish Lions players after their first defeat of the tour. Credit: David Rogers/Getty Images

Losing feeling: The British & Irish Lions players after their first defeat of the tour. Credit: David Rogers/Getty Images

Getty Images

Losing feeling: The British & Irish Lions players after their first defeat of the tour. Credit: David Rogers/Getty Images

So much for the fears that the British and Irish Lions would come into the Test series undercooked.

From the moment Rassie Erasmus named a supposedly second-string team where those without World Cup winners medals were in the distinct minority, talk began of this being a fourth Test and the ensuing 80 minutes lived up to the hype.

South Africa ‘A’ in name but Springbok in nature, the hosts battered their way into an early advantage and held on to win 17-13.

Physical, forceful and full of intent, South Africa laid down a marker from the off in an engrossing game that was a world away from the one-sided strolls of the early tour games.

Having made a habit of early tries so far, the Lions almost found themselves giving one up only for Anthony Watson to force Sbu Nkosi into touch just prior to grounding in the corner. Still, Morne Steyn knocked over a penalty awarded for an offside in the preceding passage of play.

And Nkosi didn’t have to wait long for his moment, the wing the beneficiary of Eben Etzebeth charging down Owen Farrell to cap off what was an error-strewn first quarter of an hour for the visitors.

The Lions’ kicking had been poor in practice all evening but quite what the theory behind kicking to Cheslin Kolbe was remains to be seen.

If the Toulouse superstar was surprised to be afforded the opportunity to counter, he didn’t show it, turning would-be tacklers inside out before offloading to his skipper Lukhanyo Am on the charge for South Africa’s second score. 

And the Boks carried that 14-point advantage to the turn despite finishing up with 13 men after Faf de Klerk and Marco van Staden were sent to the bin in quick succession.

While the Lions got close off the pick-and-go in spite of typically resolute goal-line defence from the hosts, they headed to the sheds at the break surely rueing the decision not to go for the scrum with two men more.

Four minutes into the second half, they belatedly drove their way over against the 13 men, prop Wyn Jones scoring when Gatland’s men needed it most with a Farrell penalty soon after cutting the deficit to four. 

Having weathered the early blows that had rained down upon them, the Lions were a different side now with the likes of Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Chris Harris taking the fight to the opposition.

Having come up inches short of taking a first lead through Louis Rees-Zammit though, the Lions didn’t get close again until Zander Fagerson knocked on with the clock having just turned red.

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Not the result the Lions wanted but perhaps the challenge they needed.

Lions captain Conor Murray said it was “the hit-out we needed”.

“We dug in deep in the second half especially,” he said.

“I thought we started slowly. We remained patient. We executed most of what we wanted to do.

“We had scoring chances in the second half and we would have liked to have taken a few more.

“We look forward from here.”

A first defeat but this most trying of tours finally feels ready to ignite. 

SOUTH AFRICA ‘A’: W Le Roux; C Kolbe, L Am (capt), D de Allende, S Nkosi; M Steyn, F de Klerk; S Kitshoff, J Dweba, T Nyakane; E Etzebeth, F Mostert; M van Staden, PS du Toit, J Wiese.
REPLACEMENTS: M Marx (for Dweba, 38), C Oosthuizen (for Kitshoff, 63), V Koch (for Nyakane, 40), NJ van Rensburg (for van Staden, 64), R Elstadt (for Du Toit, 42), H Jantjies (for Wiese, 72), J Kriel (for Le Roux, 55), D Willemse (for de Allende, 53).

LIONS: L Williams; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris, B Aki, A Watson; O Farrell, C Murray; W Jones, K Owens, K Sinckler; M Itoje, I Henderson; J Navidi, T Curry, T Faletau

Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (for Owens, 51), M Vunipola (for Jones, 45), Z Fagerson (for Sinkler, 63), A Beard (for Henderson, 63), T Beirne (for Navidi, 68), S Simmonds (for Faletau, 48), G Davies (for Murray, 75), E Daly (for Williams, 14)

Referee: Jaco Peyper (SARU).

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