Itoje warns Lions to learn lessons from their past


British and Irish Lion Maro Itoje wins a line out from South Africa's Eben Etzebeth

As a student of British & Irish Lions history, Maro Itoje knows the danger of the tourists getting ahead of themselves after winning the opening Test against the Springboks.

The Lions completed their second biggest comeback ever to win a Test in the series curtain-raiser, overhauling a nine-point deficit to prevail 22-17 over the world champions.

Warren Gatland’s men will now return to Cape Town Stadium next weekend looking for the kill and a first series win in South Africa since their iconic 1997 success.

But the tourists also won the first Test on the 2001 Tour to Australia before the Wallabies fought back to win the series and Itoje warned the Lions to learn the lessons from the past.

Lions stage second-half fightback to win first Test

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“South Africa are a very proud rugby nation,” he said. “From what I know about them, they are big on analysis and they are going to analyse that game a lot.

“They will pick out trends, pick out ways they want to improve but I just think they are going to come with a higher intensity, they are going to come harder at the scrum.

Maro Itoje celebrates after the game with Rory Sutherland

“They will come harder at the lineout, harder with their kicking game – that’s probably where they got the most change out of us and they will probably look to attack that.

“We need to be better in all three of those areas, we need to be cleaner, we need to be more efficient with our kicking game and our breakdown, we need to do a lot better.

“There is definitely another level to come from us. The first half we didn’t start with the same intensity, we were probably a little bit too frantic, so I think there’s so much worth in this team.

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“Game on game, we’re getting better, and I think there is more to come from us, but the onus is on us to look at what we’ve done. This was a great win for us.

“But I’m a man who likes to look at history and how other Tours have unfolded. Looking at the 2001 Test series in Australia, they won the first Test quite convincingly and lost the next two.

“We’re happy but we don’t want to get lost in the win. We’re really happy with the win but we know that we need to do more, we need to be better as we know the Springboks are coming.”

Luke Cowan-Dickie’s second half try and 14 points from the boot of Dan Biggar helped the Lions recover after four penalties from Handrè Pollard put the Springboks 12-3 up at the break.

Maro Itoje impressed the pundits

Owen Farrell put the icing on the cake with another three points in the closing minutes and Itoje credited a more disciplined approach with inspiring the Lions’ dramatic turnaround.

“The first half we came out with a decent intensity but probably not the intensity we needed and to our detriment we were giving away a lot of silly penalties,” he said.

“We weren’t as disciplined as we needed to be and in the second half, we flipped that on its head. We came out with a higher intensity and we kept our discipline a lot more.

“As a result, we were able to put more pressure on them. We just had to trust ourselves a bit more, trust ourselves, trust our systems and increase the intensity.

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“At half-time we were obviously 12-3 down and often when you’re in that situation you have two choices, you can continue doing what you’re doing and watch the scoreboard get away from you.

“Or you can try and pull up your sleeves and try and turn it around. We tried to do the latter and it was successful. Our conditioners have done a great job, we have worked hard in South Africa.

“We back ourselves to at least play for the full 80 so I don’t think anything was too much of a surprise, but we just had to show more faith in our ability than we did in the first half.”

While Itoje was named man of the match for his display in Cape Town, he was not the only player to impress as Courtney Lawes and Alun Wyn Jones also put in huge shifts.

Gatland's Lions celebrate

And the 26-year-old England lock hailed the influence and experience of Tour captain Jones, who played the full 80 minutes having dislocated his shoulder less than a month ago.

“Alun Wyn is a very experienced player. He was very vocal, he’s a high energy senior citizen and he is a high energy man, so he was very vocal,” he said when asked about Jones.

“But on occasions like this you don’t need to talk too much. I think he read the room, read the environment and read what needed to be said and he said the appropriate things.

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“I thought Courtney was also fantastic. There was a lot of small talk, a lot of staying in the fight, staying in the battle. We just had to keep working hard, have faith in what we’re doing.

“Winning a Test match for the Lions is always special, you only play once every four years. It’s unique but this win means nothing unless we go out and win next week.

“This is a great win and I’m proud to be a part of this match, but we know that there’s still work to do and we need to do a job next week for this win to really count.”

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