Lions in the land of legends
Springboks left kicking themselves as the golden boots of Jenkins and Guscott secure place in history
Sunday 29 June 1997
Tries: Van der Westhuizen 35 Pens: Jenkins 16, 31, 48,
Montgomery 41, 66, 72
Joubert 54 Drop: Guscott 77
Hallelujah. The Lions rewrote history in staggering fashion in Durban yesterday and not just rugby history either. Quite how anyone could simultaneously defend Rorke's Drift and the Alamo will forever remain a mystery but Martin Johnson's band of British Isles bravehearts managed to perform the feat under more pressure than they could ever have imagined possible.
The Lions were outscored by three tries to nil, but prevailed on the back of yet another phenomenal defensive action, yet another faultless kicking display from Neil Jenkins and a drop-goal at the death from Jeremy Guscott, the dream machine from Bath. Guscott will die a rich man, for he will never have to buy his own dinner again.
When Andre Joubert handed off the talismanic John Bentley with brutal effect and cruised down the left touchline to score the Boks' third try, the Lions were looking at an unenviable series decider in Johannesburg next weekend. Yet although they had soaked up more punishment than a drunken fairground slugger on a bad afternoon, they hung on in there. Jenkins landed penalties on 66 and 72 minutes and when Gregor Townsend led one last raid on the Springboks defences four minutes from time, Guscott received the ball in space and did the business in typically nonchalant style.
"We got into a position where we were going to call the drop-goal that, if it had gone to plan, Gregor Townsend would have been the kicker," Guscott said. "As it happened he had taken a bang on the head and was out of it. The ball was there, Matt Dawson was there, but Gregor wasn't, and when Matt saw me he had panic written all over his face. But he gave me a sweet pass and the one thing on my mind was to get it right. It's a mammoth moment, one that will be very difficult to surpass."
If the word heroic is overused in the context of 30 men chasing after a ball, what the hell. Men such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Keith Wood and Scott Gibbs were very definitely heroes yesterday as they risked life and limb to slam the door on a rampant Springboks side with the scent of revenge in their nostrils.
After a week of unrelenting hostility from both South African press and public, the Boks were always going to hit King's Park like 15 whirlwinds with typhoon ambitions. The Lions were perfectly prepared for Newlands revisited but the way Andre Venter and Ruben Kruger smashed into them from the kick-off left the tourists gasping for air before the minute hand had completed its first revolution.
Venter, in particular, was on fire. If the Free State flanker's running game was twice as venomous as in Cape Town seven days previously, his tackling was something else again. With Kruger never much more than an arm's length away and Gary Teichmann adding class and style to all the muscle in front of him, the South African back row looked capable of winning the Test without too much help from anyone else.
Joubert was also back on his game - his first touch-finder measured a cool 50 metres - and with Os du Randt in heavy-duty mode, the Lions front row found themselves a very long way up the proverbial creek early on. Fortunately for them, both Henry Honiball and Percy Montgomery, the left-footed debutant from Western Province, spurned penalty opportunities, the latter deflatingly from no great distance after a long spell of Springbok pressure.
Jenkins had already put the Lions ahead with a consummately struck penalty from near halfway following Kruger's ill-advised flirtation with the offside law. The Welshman sank an even better right-sided goal on the half-hour when Didier Mene, the French referee, spotted Venter dragging down a maul. The Boks could be forgiven for their obvious bemusement; they had played all the rugby, governed all the territory and dominated possession to an almost embarrassing degree, yet there they were, six points down.
Teichmann asked his men for another gear and they obliged instantly. Honiball drove a soul- destroying grubber into the Lions' right corner, forcing Jenkins to kick out into the bargain. The heat came on straight from the line-out; Kruger was tackled in last-ditch fashion at the right corner flag and du Randt was held up over the line by Dallaglio - no mean achievement. There was, however, no stopping van der Westhuizen from the third wave of assault and the Boks were back in business.
They might even have snatched an interval lead in first-half injury time, but Gibbs produced one of his trademark tackles to stop Joubert's intelligently angled run deep in the Lions' 22. The Swansea centre was worth his considerable weight in gold Krugerrands throughout the opening period; not only did he ruck and maul with Bok-like intensity but he also put the nervous Montgomery completely off his stroke by clattering him at every turn. The new cap was looking warily for Gibbs long before Mr Mene whistled for the break.
How ironic then that Montgomery should have finished off the softest of tries within a minute of the restart to give the Boks a lead that not even the Lions' Barmy Army could begrudge. Honiball hoisted a wicked bomb on Jenkins and when Alan Tait misjudged his flick pass, Honiball seized on the ball once more, found Danie van Schalkwyk in space and turned with fists clenched in jubilation as the Northern Transvaal centre laid the red carpet for his midfield partner.
The Lions needed to make something happen fast and it was Gibbs who came up with the ideas. He ran full-pelt on the best angle from 30 metres out and, amazingly, blew du Randt out of Natal with a dip of the shoulder. Jeremy Davidson was up in support, the Boks killed the ruck and Jenkins potted the penalty.
Back within a point, the Lions threatened to play some football for the first time; Townsend's delicate little shimmy through the Bokke traffic momentarily raised hopes of a try. But Joubert's 54th-minute score reasserted South African superiority just when they might have been wondering whether they would ever shake off the tourists.
Jenkins then chipped over his fourth penalty when Venter was spotted breaking his binding at a set-piece and he squared it at 15-15 on 73 minutes when Mr Mene missed Wood's blatant knock-on and wrongly penalised Venter for playing the ball on the floor. Everyone needs a bit of luck now and again but, in the context of yesterday, it was of Himalayan proportions.
How they lined up
South Africa: A Joubert (Natal); A Snyman (Northern Transvaal), P Montgomery (Western Province), D van Schalkwyk (Northern Transvaal), P Rossouw (Western Province); H Honiball (Natal), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); P du Randt (Free State), N Drotske (Free State), A Garvey (Natal), H Strydom (Gauteng), M Andrews (Natal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal, capt), A Venter (Free State). Replacements: F van Heerden (Western Province) for Kruger, 51; D Theron (Griqualand West) for Garvey, 67.
British Isles: N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales); J Bentley (Newcastle and England), J Guscott (Bath and England), S Gibbs (Swansea and Wales), A Tait (Newcastle and Scotland); G Townsend (Northampton and Scotland), M Dawson (Northampton and England); T Smith (Watsonians and Scotland), K Wood (Harlequins and Ireland), P Wallace (Saracens and Ireland), M Johnson (Leicester and England, capt), J Davidson (London Irish and Ireland), L Dallaglio (Wasps and England), T Rodber (Northampton and England), R Hill (Saracens and England). Replacements: N Back (Leicester and England) for Hill, 56; A Healey (Leicester and England) for Tait, 76; E Miller (Leicester and Ireland) for Rodber, 77.
Referee: D Mene (France).
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