Maro Itoje bracing for backlash from Springboks

Itoje played his fourth consecutive Test for the Lions having been an ever-present in the drawn series with New Zealand four years ago
Maro Itoje bracing for backlash from Springboks

British & Irish Lions' Tadhg Beirne, Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones celebrate after the win over South Africa. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Maro Itoje has warned the British & Irish Lions their famous first Test victory will count for nothing unless they go onto win the series against world champions South Africa.

Itoje, playing his fourth consecutive Test for the Lions having been an ever-present in the drawn series with New Zealand four years ago, put in a man of the match performance as his side came from 12-3 down at half-time on Saturday to win the opening game of three 22-17 and take a 1-0 lead against the Springboks.

Itoje said: "This is a great win and I'm proud to be part of this match but we know that we need to do a job next week. That's when it really counts. I know they are big on analysis, they’ll look at that game a lot, pick up trends, pick up ways they can improve. I think they are just going to come with a higher intensity so they are going to come harder at the scrum, harder at the lineout, harder with their kicking game.

“That was probably where they got most change out of us so they’re probably going to look to attack that. So we need to be better in all three of those areas, we need to be cleaner, more efficient and do a lot better at our breakdown.”

Itoje was brilliant defensively for the Lions, effecting three turnovers and proving a linchpin in the rearguard with three tackles as the tourists defended their line to protect their 22-17 lead after Owen Farrell had kicked them into a five-point lead with two minutes to go.

Yet he did concede a turnover in a sloppy first half for the Lions as he was held up in the tackle by Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth to concede a scrum and though Itoje knows he and his team-mates will have to improve he is confident they can go to another level next Saturday.

“Yes, definitely. In the first half we didn’t start with the (necessary) intensity and we were probably a little bit too frantic.

“Game by game we’re getting better, we’re learning lessons so I think there is more to come from us but the onus is on us to look at what we’ve done. I’m a man who likes to look at history and see how other tours have unfolded. Looking at the 2001 Tests in Australia, they won the first Test quite convincingly and then went on to lose the next two. We’re happy but we know that we need to be better next week, stronger.. The Springboks, we know they are coming.” 

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