Springboks withstand Lions fightback to win first test

South Africa 26 British and Irish Lions 21
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The Independent Online

South Africa withstood a late surge by the British and Irish Lions on Saturday to win 26-21 and lead 1-0 in the three-test series.

Springbok flanker Heinrich Brussow scored on home debut and captain John Smit also collected a try at Kings Park. Flyhalf Ruan Pienaar kicked 13 points as the hosts punished poor discipline by the Lions forwards to lead 26-7.

"The scrums were disappointing because we had so many penalties, especially in good attacking situations," Lions captain Paul O'Connell said. "That's something we have to look at."

Tom Croft's second try and another score by Lions teammate Mike Phillips cut the lead to five points with five minutes left. But the Boks, who last won a Lions series 29 years ago, held on ahead of tests in Pretoria next Saturday and in Johannesburg on July 4.

"We have a lot more to do before the second test," Smit said. "We have to be a lot more clinical."

The result also means that the Lions, who won all six of their warmup games against provincial sides, have now lost six tests in a row since beating Australia in the first match of the 2001 series in Brisbane.

Lions flyhalf Stephen Jones had a chance to kick his team ahead in the second minute, but his 40-meter penalty from almost on the touchline sailed wide and it wasn't long before the Springboks moved in front.

Despite leading the Springboks 51 times in 81 previous internationals, this was Smit's first test against the Lions and he celebrated with a try.

After the Lions' Ugo Monye had stopped opposing winger J.P. Pietersen reaching Pienaar's kick into the corner, Springboks scrumhalf Fourie du Preez offloaded to Smit, who charged through Jamie Roberts and Croft for a converted try in the fifth minute.

The Lions thought they were level two minutes later when Monye took a pass from Brian O'Driscoll and went over with Pietersen and Jean de Villiers tackling him on the line. But the TV official ruled De Villiers had stopped the winger from touching down.

Pienaar and long-range kicking specialist Francois Steyn stretched the lead to 13-0 before the Lions struck back with a try in the 23rd minute.

Roberts burst through 30 meters from the line and passed to O'Driscoll whose weaving run set up Croft to go over. Jones converted as the Lions cut the lead to six points.

But the visitors were punished for their own indiscipline in the scrums — especially tighthead prop Phil Vickery — and Pienaar kicked two more easy penalties to give the Springboks a 19-7 lead at halftime.

The Springboks forwards continued to dominate the Lions and, after a series of drives that pushed them back 30 meters, the tourists took off Vickery and sent on Wales prop Adam Jones.

It made no immediate difference, however. After the Lions were again penalized, the Boks opted for a lineout to maintain the pressure and Brussow touched down after a forward surge. Pienaar's conversion extended the lead to 26-7 in the 47th minute.

But the Lions had chances when they controlled the ball, with Phillips reaching out to touch down only to lose the ball.

Having failed to make any impact in the forwards, the Lions opened the game up and Croft scored his second try in the 68th to make it 26-14 after Roberts had again cut through. The ball was recycled, Croft saw a rare gap to go over and Jones converted.

Monye should have added a third when he made the overlap but Jaque Fourie's tackle forced the ball loose just short of the line.

Phillips ended a long spell of Lions pressure close to the Springboks line to dummy a pass and then dart through a gap for a converted try with five minutes to go.

Roberts and replacement fullback Rob Kearney also went close to going over as South Africa's defense creaked in the last quarter of the game. The Lions scored three tries to two, and they will go into the second test knowing they can break the Springboks' line.

"When we played rugby, we were very good," O'Connell said. "We opened them up and we have just got to keep doing that."