Rugby Union: Lions the Springbok tamers

Dawson's dummy sets up historic victory for tourists as frustrated South Africans run into red brick wall
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The Independent Online
South Africa 16 British Isles 25

Try: du Randt, 23 Tries: Dawson, 73

Bennett, 44 Tait, 79

Pens: Lubbe, 3 Pens: Jenkins, 6, 33, 35,

Honiball, 50 43, 62

The Lions are roaring, the world champions are drowning their sorrows. Two wonderful tries in the final seven minutes of an emotional encounter - one a nonchalant solo effort from Matt Dawson, the other an injury-time passing movement finished off by Alan Tait - gave the British Isles their fourth Test victory over South Africa in Cape Town and a priceless advantage in the three-match series.

Not since Willie-John McBride's 1974 immortals had the Lions won the first Test of any series. Yesterday, Martin Johnson's men produced a rearguard action to rival that of John Dawes' Lions against New Zealand in Dunedin 26 years ago and if the rest of this rubber goes the same way, British rugby will be on its greatest high in a generation.

Dawson, in the side only because of Rob Howley's unfortunate injury, touched down after 73 minutes of compelling, pulsating and shatteringly physical international rugby. He gave Ruben Kruger the slip on the short- side of a scrum 30 metres out, dummied one-handed to Ieuan Evans to throw Gary Teichmann, the Springbok captain, off the scent and then almost ambled, easy as you like, over by the right corner.

The Northampton scrum-half's memorable effort was then improved in injury time by Tait, who took advantage of a fierce drive by Jason Leonard and a typically bullocking run from Scott Gibbs to stride jubilantly over in the opposite corner. It was a stunning conclusion, one that silenced the fanatics of Cape Town as surely as a Trappist vow.

Jim Telfer, the Lions' straight-talking assistant coach, predicted that a crescendo of energy would surge through the previously closeted and cosseted Boks in the opening stages. What he did not predict was the deafening crescendo of noise that greeted Teichmann's side and the tourists would have been less than human had they not been shaken to their collective core.

Under the circumstances, the Lions needed control from the start. Sadly, it went missing from the first second as Neil Jenkins overstruck his kick off, planted it into touch on the full and subjected Tom Smith, Keith Wood and Paul Wallace to a defensive scrum they could have done without. Sure enough, Os du Randt and the other Springbok heavies made a major mess of the visitors' set-piece, Henry Honiball sank a wind-assisted touchfinder to within eight metres of the Lions' line and, when Johnson lost his first line-out ball, Wallace dropped the ensuing scrum under pressure for Edrich Lubbe to sink a simple penalty.

Jenkins made up for his lapse four minutes later, however, potting an equalising penalty following some slippery running from Dawson and a couple of up and at 'em charges from Wood and Johnson. These were trying times for the Lions, though; with Joost van der Westhuizen and Honiball linking sweetly at half-back and Kruger making his inimitable presence felt in the loose, the Springboks used the surfeit of possession from Mark Andrews to exert massive pressure in all the right areas.

The Lions did well enough to shore up the foundations during one prolonged bout of Springbok assault and battery, Dawson putting in the bravest of hits on the rampaging du Randt and Wood burrowing under the opposition to slow two vital ruck balls. But the fissures in the edifice became apparent when Wallace conceded his second scrummaging penalty. James Small toe- poked the ball into touch five metres out, Andrews took a perfect catch at the middle of the line-out and du Randt, all 20-odd stones of him, blew Lawrence Dallaglio and Tim Rodber away en route to the line for an unconverted try.

It was now that the Lions' religiously-honed team spirit faced its first major test and they passed the examination with something to spare. Smith, Wood and Johnson set the tone with some outstanding work in and around the loose exchanges and, even though Jenkins was wide with a penalty on 27 minutes, reward was not long in coming.

Hard driving from the awkward Smith put South Africa on the back foot to such an extent that three of them dragged down a maul to present Jenkins with a short-range three-pointer to the right of the posts. Within a minute, the Welsh full-back was back on the scoreboard in similar fashion having taken full advantage of Andre Joubert's uncharacteristic fumble of an Evans high ball and some skilful rapid support from Dallaglio.

Behind for the first time, the Springboks shifted up half a gear towards the interval. Van der Westhuizen prodding and probing around the tackle area with malicious intent, chipped cleverly towards the right corner flag for Andrews to set Japie Mulder hurtling towards the line. Again, the Lions' secondary defence was good enough, Wood making acres of ground to fly-hack the ball into touch just as Andrews clattered him with a late, high challenge. Colin Hawke, the referee, blew for the break and told the Springbok lock a home truth or two as the players headed for the tunnel.

His advice failed to cut much ice. Du Randt was immediately penalised on the restart for a bulldozing but thoroughly illegal charge into a ruck - Jenkins again did the necessary. And when Andrews went clambering into a breakdown a couple of minutes later, Hawke's patience appeared to be running thin.

Unfortunately for the tourists, those two incidents were separated by the Springboks' second try, finished off with considerable aplomb by Russell Bennett who had just entered the fray as a replacement for Lubbe. Kruger rescued precious possession on the Lions' 22 and quick hands sent Teichmann galloping deep into the soft underbelly of the visitors' defence. Unusually, Gibbs missed the Springbok captain, who promptly found Bennett with a one-handed round-the-corner pass to usher the Border full-back over in the corner.

When Honiball landed a 50th minute penalty following another infringement by Wallace - the Irish prop opted to sign up as a temporary Springbok and hack the ball from the wrong side of a maul - the Lions were severely on their uppers.

Jeremy Guscott found some space on the left after an hour only for Tait's inside run to be snuffed out. But disappointment over that wasted opportunity was eased when Jenkins landed a fifth penalty following some blatant shirt-tugging by Kruger and spirits rose still further when Bennett's second try was ruled out because of a forward pass from Andre Venter. Then came Dawson's numbing solo strike and Tait's coup de grace to signal a huge night out for the Barmy Army Brits in the stands and an even bigger one for 16 proud men in red shirts.

South Africa: A Joubert (Natal); J Small (Western Province), J Mulder (Gauteng), E Lubbe (Griqualand West), A Snyman (Northern Transvaal); H Honiball (Natal), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); O du Randt (Free State), N Drotske (Free State), A Garvey (Natal), M Andrews (Natal), H Strydom (Gauteng), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal, capt), A Venter (Free State). Replacement: R Bennett (Border) for Lubbe, h-t.

British Isles: N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales); I Evans (Llanelli and Wales), 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). Replacement: J Leonard (Harlequins and England) for Smith, 79.

Referee: C Hawke (New Zealand).

The Lions' joy was tempered by injuries to stand-off Gregor Townsend (bruised rib ligaments) and prop Tom Smith (ankle) which make them doubtful for Saturday's Second Test