Rugby Union: Lions almost sink without trace

Try by skipper Wainwright saves face for tourists but ligament injury to Gibbs may prove high price to pay; Border 14 British Isles 18
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The Independent Online
A small matter of 109 years ago the first Lions captain, R L Seddon, drowned in a rowing accident in Australia. Rob Wainwright very nearly suffered a similar experience here yesterday. Not only was he forced into repeated Jacques Cousteau impersonations as he dived increasingly frantically for the ball on a waterlogged pitch, but he also spent 80 minutes submerged beneath a Border pack who, for all their perceived weaknesses, came within a whisker of inflicting the upset to end them all.

The stand-in skipper's drive-over try eight minutes from time, supplemented by Tim Stimpson's penalty seconds from the final whistle, just about spared the tourists the indignity of a first provincial defeat in South Africa since 1968. Nothing could spare their blushes, however. Border, a self- confessed shambles this season, played a more intelligent hand for much of the game and might easily have emulated their forerunners of 1955 by beating the cream of the British Isles.

The cream looked well and truly curdled yesterday on the eastern Cape's laughably misnamed Sunshine Coast. Paul Grayson's kicking game sank without trace in the fathomless depths of a sodden surface at the Basil Kenyon Stadium - he missed five from five, three of them little more than sand wedge chip shots - and with his confidence in tatters as a result, his distribution from outside-half disappeared in the same general direction. There was not much to shout about in the front five, either, although Mark Regan generated some valuable oomph in the bump and grind.

To make matters worse, Scott Gibbs was taken off on a stretcher with damaged ankle ligaments. He was promptly packed off to the team's new base in Cape Town this morning for intensive treatment, and although the Lions management tried their level best to play down the worst case scenario, the injury was severe enough to raise immediate fears over the Welshman's future on this tour. On the evidence of his muscularly committed performance in the first half yesterday, he would be badly missed.

As in Port Elizabeth last weekend, the Lions picked up early points with a high-class try as thoughtful in conception as it was decisive in execution. Grayson's short-side chip was gathered by Tony Underwood inside the Border 22, and when Stimpson galloped full pelt on to Allan Bateman's weighted pass going right, John Bentley was handily placed for the kill. Two minutes on the clock, Border on their uppers.

Yet it soon became clear that the South Africans possessed rather more sophisticated weaponry than the local experts had let on. Both props, Heinrich Kok and Delarey du Preez, caught the eye with a brand of direct running and dexterous ball-handling that seemed entirely beyond the Lions' heavy mob, and with John Bradbrook and Greg Miller hitting the hot spots with their tactical kicking, the tourists struggled to capitalise on a marked territorial advantage.

Regan ploughed over on 35 minutes after a rumble from the deeply impressive Eric Miller, but some confused thinking by Grayson allowed Greg Hechter, a real handful in the Border midfield, to work Andre Claasen over in the left corner a couple of minutes short of the interval. Greg Miller added two second-half penalties to an earlier success and at 14-10, the Lions were on the edge of the precipice until Wainwright took advantage of Doddie Weir's clean line-out catch to burrow his way to a winning score.

Worryingly from the point of view of the tourists, Ruhan van Zyl, the Border captain, reached similar conclusions to those of his fellow hooker and Eastern Province skipper, Jaco Kirsten, as he reflected on the day's proceedings. "The Lions are vulnerable up front," he asserted. "They are not that strong in the scrums and when they get to the Tests, the Springbok forwards will give them a tough time."

Clearly, it is time for Jim Telfer, the hard-nosed Scot with a doctorate in the stern science of the set-piece, to reach for his whip. Unless the big boys start flexing their muscles and punching their weight, the next few weeks could be very painful indeed.

Border: Try Claasen; Penalties Miller 3. British Isles: Tries Bentley, Regan, Wainwright; Penalty Stimpson.

Border: R Bennett; K Hilton-Green, G Hechter, K Malotana (D Maidza, 43), A Claasen; G Miller, J Bradbrook; H Kok, R van Zyl (capt), D du Preez, S Botha, J Gehring (L Blakeway, 73), M Swart, A Fox, A Botha (D Coetzer, 81).

BRITISH ISLES: T Stimpson (Newcastle and England); J Bentley (Newcastle and England), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), S Gibbs (Swansea and Wales), T Underwood (Newcastle and England); P Grayson (Northampton and England),

A Healey (Leicester and England); G Rowntree (Leicester and England), M Regan (Bristol and England), D Young (Cardiff and Wales), G Weir (Newcastle and Scotland), J Davidson (London Irish and Ireland), R Wainwright (Watsonians and Scotland, capt), E Miller (Leicester and Ireland), N Back (Leicester and England). Replacements: A Tait (Newcastle and Scotland) for Gibbs, 44; M Dawson (Northampton and England) for Healey, 54; P Wallace (Saracens and Ireland) for Young, 67.

Referee: A Burger (Gauteng).

The Pacific nations of Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa said yesterday they had joined forces and would apply as one team to take part in next year's Super 12 series. The competition is currently played between four clubs each from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The islands aim to have a team fully prepared to offer warm-up matches to existing Super 12 teams by January 1998.