James Haskell has warned the British and Irish Lions they were ‘lucky’ to beat South Africa in Cape Town after a stirring second half fight back secured a famous 22-17 first Test victory.
Trailing 12-3 at the interval after being picked apart by the boot of Handre Pollard, the Lions came alive as a Luke Cowan-Dickie try ignited a fightback that was completed by the boots of Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell.
South Africa were playing only their second international since lifting the 2019 World Cup but there was little sign of rustiness as their simple gameplan based around territory and forcing penalties initially unfolded as planned.
A fractured build-up that forced the entire Springboks squad to self-isolate for six days as well as key players such as Siya Kolisi and Pollard testing positive for coronavirus had no apparent impact as they played to their strengths beautifully.
It was often an ugly spectacle and at times the Lions looked slightly lost, failing to gain a meaningful foothold up-front and with half-backs Ali Price and Biggar unable to provide direction.
But a dramatic swing took place early in the second half as South Africa’s discipline collapsed as a resurgent Lions began stamping their authority in every area while Biggar kicked the points.
Haskell, who toured with the Lions in 2017, fears the World Cup holders will be much stronger next week.
“We are very lucky to be in this position,” Haskell said on talkSPORT.
“We showed a bit of nous and game management, but we could have got beaten on another day.
“This is a good start, but South Africa will be better after this and there is lots to learn on both sides.”
Pollard drew first blood with a penalty and when Tom Curry made a late tackle on De Klerk, he added another three points as an opening quarter controlled by the Springboks came to an end.
But the tourists’ indiscipline was becoming a recurring problem as Pollard booted another six points to extend the lead to 12-3 while Biggar failed with a routine shot at goal.
A tense first-half neared its conclusion with Daly just falling short with a long-range penalty attempt and the Lions’ hearts were in their mouths when Robbie Henshaw stepped through a gap in defense and raced upfield until Willie Le Roux arrived to tackle the Ireland centre.
South Africa changed their entire front row at half-time but when play restarted they came under immediate pressure as Alun Wyn Jones opted for the corner rather than taking the points.
The ambition paid off as the Lions constructed an unstoppable line-out maul that swept them over the whitewash with Cowan-Dickie touching down.
Le Roux had a try disallowed for a marginal offside call when Am kicked ahead but TMO Marius Jonker had no issue with De Klerk’s 50th-minute try.
Makazole Mapimpi and Pieter-Steph Du Toit were heavily involved as the Lions failed to capitalize on a wild pass by Pollard and De Klerk arrived to poach the try from close range.
But successive penalties by Biggar that punished the Springboks for repeatedly straying offside kept the Lions in the hunt.
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The momentum had now swung totally towards the tourists and for the first time they were ahead courtesy of Biggar’s boot, setting up nail-biting climax.
Nerves frayed once more when only a Cheslin Kolbe knock-on saw a Damian De Allende try chalked off and it was Farrell who had the final say.
When asked what the tourists had to do better, Haskell wanted to see ball carriers getting lower and tacklers following suit.
He added: “We have to lower our body height in the tackles, keep the energy and levels high.
“Courtney Lawes was doing it, but he was sometimes the only guy doing it and wrapping round the legs.
“We have to look at how we carry the ball into the contact before next weekend.”