Despite the defeat Anthony Watson enjoyed another good outing in the Lions shirt
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
The British and Irish Lions received their toughest test of the tour against a very strong South Africa A side containing many of the Springboks stars they will face when the Test series gets underway next week.
The hard-fought 17-13 defeat will allow Warren Gatland to gauge exactly where his side is, having registered three routine victories since landing in the Rainbow Nation before this clash.
With just 10 days until the first Test here’s how the players fared as they battle it out for places in that first match against the world champions.
15. Liam Williams (Elliot Daly, 13) N/A
Drafted in for Josh Adams but forced off before the end of the first quarter after absorbing a mighty tackle from Eben Etzebeth.
14. Louis Rees-Zammit – 7
Sliced a kick under pressure from Cheslin Kolbe but got his own back, chasing Daly’s kick and lassoing the slippery wing. His speed is so hard to contain
13. Chris Harris – 8
There is no shame in being skinned by Cheslin Kolbe, as Harris was for Am’s try. He responded by sparking the Lions’ attack himself, bumping Kolbe away.
12. Bundee Aki – 7
Stripped the ball in a tackle on Wiese but perhaps the most significant aspect of Aki’s performance was his passing, which helped the Lions navigate a crowded midfield.
11. Anthony Watson – 8
Scrambled to force Nkosi into touch early and slalomed through green jerseys when given the opportunity. Sound positionally and brave to defy a twisted ankle. Excellent again.
10. Owen Farrell – 5
Costly errors included a charge-down, an overcooked punt to touch and a misdirected cross-kick. Improved later but Test prospects will have been seriously damaged.
9. Conor Murray (G Davies, 75) – 6
The decision to tap a penalty with South Africa A reduced to 13 stung the Lions. One effective chip and chase but frantic moments as well.
1. Wyn Jones (M Vunipola, 46) – 8
Earned two scrum penalties, one on South Africa A’s put-in five metres from the Lions try-line. Deserved his try, too. A fine outing.
2. Ken Owens (L Cowan-Dickie, 50) – 7
Fought hard to stall the hosts at defensive breakdowns and was a willing figure in the trenches, pounding away when the Lions possession.
3. Kyle Sinckler (Z Fagerson, 63) – 7
The scrum was a positive for the Lions, which will have helped Sinckler’s Test hopes. Attempted to inject energy in the loose but was well marshalled.
4. Maro Itoje – 8
Threw a deft tip-on pass to Curry. However, his best work came with characteristically disruptive defence. He stalled South Africa A’s driving game and was a nuisance around the ruck.
5. Iain Henderson (A Beard, 62) – 6
Part of a pack that was overwhelmed by South Africa’s opening blast. Did not fade completely, though, winning a maul turnover in the 47th minute.
6. Josh Navidi (T Beirne, 69) – 7
Hard to believe the tough back-rower was not in Warren Gatland’s initial squad. Rolled up his sleeves and stood up to the intense physicality.
7. Tom Curry – 8
The performance he needed to challenge Hamish Watson. Tied together eye-catching attacks with athleticism and offloads. Charging down clubmate Faf De Klerk will have felt good.
8. Taulupe Faletau (S Simmonds 48) – 6
After a fraught start spent fire-fighting in defence, Faletau hung wide and caused problems with his pace prior to an early exit. Also an important lineout option.
16. Luke Cowan Dickie (on for Owens, 50) – 6
Added verve, and his aggression could well become a factor later on this tour if the breakdown continues to be such a mess.
17. Mako Vunipola (on for Jones, 46) – 7
Had been in danger of slipping to the periphery on this tour and still may find himself out of the Test squad, but a thumping tackle on De Klerk and some lively touches in attack were heartening.
18. Zander Fagerson (on for Sinckler, 62) – 6
A brief appearance for Fagerson, whose spill ended the game. Looks robust in the set-piece exchanges, though.
19. Adam Beard (on for Henderson, 62) – 7
Even with the return of Alun Wyn Jones, do not count Beard out of the Test shake-up. He spoils opposition mauls for fun and is a skilful handler.
20. Tadhg Beirne (on for Navidi, 69) – N/A
Conceded a penalty in the final minutes and may now rest until the Tests.
21. Sam Simmonds (on for Faletau, 47) – 6
It was always going to take something remarkable for Simmonds to usurp Faletau or Jack Conan. Quiet, though committed, here. Should get a start against the Stormers.
22. Gareth Davies (on for Murray, 75) – N/A
Had just five minutes but almost picked the pocket of De Klerk at the final scrum.
23. Elliot Daly (on for Williams, 13) – 7
Spilled the first high ball after his arrival but snaked through a clever grubber soon afterwards. Indeed, he offered an vital outlet for the Lions’ attack and defended wholeheartedly.
South Africa A ratings
15. Willie Le Roux – 7
The odd wobble cannot detract from his influence as a second playmaker, whether ghosting into the line to feed his wings or raking left-footed kicks. The Springboks need him fit for the Test series.
14. Cheslin Kolbe – 8
We have come to expect electric moments from a man dubbed "the Lionel Messi ” of rugby by Ronan O’Gara. Kolbe goose-stepped past Chris Harris and offloaded to Am to carve the game open. Reasonably subdued from there, but that was enough to win the game.
13. Lukhanyo Am – 8
The stand-in skipper oozed calm, whether tracking Curry to win a turnover or supporting Kolbe to score. A quietly accomplished performer and the brains of a brutal defence.
12. Damian de Allende – 7
Won a breakdown turnover and ran a shrewd support line to block Farrell as Nkosi sauntered away for the first try. Replaced early in the second half. Another gnarled operator.
11. S’bu Nkosi – 7
Should have wriggled past Anthony Watson to score before his easy run-in and was beaten in the air from a hanging kick. Missed three tackles, but South Africa’s wings are asked to rush up and disrupt. That urgency spooked the Lions at times.
10. Morné Steyn – 7
Three days after his 37th birthday, the veteran’s crafty kicking game probed the Lions. Did miss a long-range penalty and a drop-goal attempt, but appeared pretty comfortable behind his forwards.
9. Faf de Klerk – 7
Used the boot a great deal but was happy to service his heavy runners as well. And just a relentless livewire in defence, although he was sin-binned for a shoulder-charge.
1. Steven Kitshoff – 6
This series is his chance to replicate the barnstorming displays from the bench in 2019 and establish himself as the successor to Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira. This was low-key stuff. Expect him to grow in stature.
2. Joseph Dweba – 7
The only uncapped member of this fearsome side was replaced by Malcolm Marx before half-time. Bar one lineout malfunction, he was busy.
3. Trevor Nyakane – 5
Found himself outmanoeuvred by Wyn Jones at two scrums and left the contest at half-time. Frans Malherbe’s place was not threatened.
4. Eben Etzebeth – 9
Towering stuff. The lock clattered Liam Williams within seconds, made a try-scoring charge down on Farrell and returned a tackle count well into double figures. An elite enforcer.
Eben Etzebeth tackles Taulupe Faletau
5. Franco Mostert – 9
So tenacious around the breakdown, whether counter-rucking or jackalling, and a big lineout asset. Seized a chance to shine with RG Snyman and Lood de Jager absent.
6. Marco van Staden – 7
Took around 20 seconds to force a turnover but seemed to lose his balance quite often thereafter and saw yellow before half-time. Returned for a bustling second half. Leicester Tigers have a very interesting recruit.
7. Pieter-Steph du Toit – 8
Over-eager early on, creeping offside, but turned in a typically imposing first half to help rattle the Lions in the first half. His withdrawal, with the hosts leading 17-3, appeared to be a case of Jacques Nienaber saying “I’ve seen enough”.
8. Jasper Wiese – 6
Tentative with his first carry, which saw him met and robbed of possession by Bundee Aki in midfield, and did not dent the Lions’ defence. This is one area of selection in which South Africa will have to think hard without Duane Vermeulen.
16. Malcolm Marx (on for Dweba, 39) – 7
A breakdown menace who asserted control at the start of the final quarter.
17. Coenie Oosthuizen (on for Kitshoff, 62) – 6
His first contribution was to help a driving maul march some 15 metres upfield.
18. Vincent Koch (on for Nyakane, h-t) – 6
Energetic and robust enough keep this role, which he fulfilled at Rugby World Cup 2019, for the Test series.
19. Nicolaas Janse Van Rensburg (on for Van Staden, 64) – 6
Won a turnover after replacing Van Staden.
20. Rynhard Elstadt (on for Du Toit, 42) – 6
The Toulouse back-rower is snarling, combative and skilful. Put his hand up to carry without making too much ground/
21. Herschel Jantjies (on for Wise, 72) – N/A
The scrum-half arrived late and hung out on the wing. Gathered a cross-kick but was well tackled by Daly.
22. Jesse Kriel (on for Le Roux, 54) – 6
Kriel found himself filling in at blindside flanker at the final scrum. Fighting for a spot among South Africa’s replacements for the Test series.
23. Damian Willemse (on for De Allende, 52) – 7
An impressive display from Willemse, who hacked into touch to spare South Africa’s blushes at the end. Especially assured in defence and could oust Francois Steyn for the No 23 shirt if Nienaber persists with six forwards on the bench.