The Lions, so impressive in the midweek games, suffered another bad dose of Saturdayitis at Newlands yesterday, struggling to put away a Western Province side with precious little form behind them and shorn of four Springboks, including the influential centre Jean de Villiers and the stellar flanker Schalk Burger. At the end of a tight second half, the tourists needed a 50-metre penalty from James Hook to secure victory and maintain their 100 per cent record with the first Test a week away.
Hook's strike was well-nigh perfect – indeed, it was something of a minor miracle, given the high winds sweeping around this famous old stadium. The penalty was earned at a scrum by the tighthead prop Euan Murray, whose high-impact appearance off the bench proved decisive. Hook himself was a replacement. The Welshman took over the full-back duties from Rob Kearney, who was hurt in the build-up to Western Province's try three minutes into the final quarter.
If the opening exchanges were shapeless, the Welsh No 8 Andy Powell showed strongly, happily careering around the field despite the hand injury – two small broken bones, it is said – that will probably not heal completely before the end of the tour. But while the Lions, principally Kearney, were playing kick-ball with the intelligent home fly-half, Willem de Waal, the positive effect of their physical superiority was being minimised. Indeed, De Waal opened the scoring with a 45-metre penalty following a long period of aerial ping-pong.
Western Province looked well organised and highly motivated, their controversial captain, Luke Watson, a long-time thorn in the side of the South African rugby establishment, exercising his sense of victimhood with a busy performance in the loose alongside his flankers, Pieter Louw and Duane Vermeulen. They also stood strong in the early scrums, hitting early and wheeling the Lions at will.
Two penalties in five minutes from Stephen Jones gave the tourists a measure of authority, but a quite brilliant wide-angled drop goal from De Waal restored parity and when the full-back Joe Pietersen hit the spot with a more straightforward shot after powerful driving close to the Lions line by the props Wicus Blaauw and Brok Harris, the hosts were in front again.
Re-enter Powell, more decisively this time. Just shy of the half-hour the big No 8 from Brecon created some space for himself near halfway and set sail into open field, earning his colleagues an attacking opportunity going right. Kearney made his way into the line to make the extra man and when the impressive Tommy Bowe received his pass tight to the right touchline, he beat Pietersen with ease and wrong-footed De Waal en route to the line.
There was better to come. Six minutes later, Bowe left his wing in search of some fun and on receiving a pass from Jones he found himself making a diagonal run towards the left corner in a fashion that has become happily familiar over the last fortnight. If his powerful surge opened up the pitch, his lobbed pass to Ugo Monye was just as telling. Monye made the line with ease, sliding across the soaking surface for a fine try, beautifully converted by Jones. The only response before the interval was another penalty from De Waal, awarded against Andrew Sheridan for dragging down a maul.
De Waal was beginning to worry the Lions, however, and seven minutes after the restart he slid over a sweet kick to reduce the gap to three points. The tourists needed something to settle them, and that something came from Martyn Williams, very much in the Last Chance Saloon in respect of Test selection. The ever-creative flanker from the Welsh valleys was heavily involved in a sweeping attack instigated by Powell's strength in contact wide on the right, and after a lengthy goal-line siege, Sheridan drove Williams over.
It should have been enough, but De Waal chipped away with another penalty before the Lions cracked for the only time in the contest. Pietersen set Vermeulen free down the right with a delightful pass, and when the lock Anton van Zyl wrong-footed the tourists with a dummy inside the 22, Kearney was forced into a brave tackle that ended his match. For all his courage, the ball was spun left, where Pietersen reappeared to dive over at the flag and bring the teams level. They would be separated only by Hook's late intervention.
Man for man marking: Lions, by Martin Pengelly
15 ROB KEARNEY 6/10
Started slowly but got better, and his delayed pass made Bowe's try. Flattened Tonderai Chavhanga by mistake. James Hook came on and had a long penalty at a crucial time. He... missed it. Had another chance. He... belted it through. Good work.
14 TOMMY BOWE 8/10
Will expect to be picked on Tuesday, rather than for Tuesday – they're deciding the Test team that evening, after the game in Port Elizabeth. Try was a beauty and his break and pass for Monye was even better. Having a belter of a tour.
13 KEITH EARLS 6/10
Quiet, bordering on anonymous, which might have made a nice change after the last two weeks.
12 RIKI FLUTEY 6/10
First start of the tour, thanks to injury, and slotted into a rather unglamourous afternoon. Involved in the first try.
11 UGO MONYE 7/10
Seemed to be in a "who can try the least convincing chip through" competition with Chavhanga. Honours even. Finished his try well, and will buy Bowe a pint for it. Defended well – has a good chance of a Test place.
10 STEPHEN JONES 7/10
Pumped up the high balls once he realised Joe Pietersen was flakier than a double 99, and had a hand in Bowe's try. Kicking at goal wasn't easy. Test No 10? Proba... possibly.
9 HARRY ELLIS 6/10
Conceded the first penalty, for offside – probably just wanted to put an end to the longest game of kick tennis you'll see outside a Brazil training session. Decent service, reasonable tactical kicking... on the bench to face the Boks.
1 ANDREW SHERIDAN 6/10
The question hasn't changed – mobility, from Gethin Jenkins, or mountainous presence from this chap? Smithereened a couple of WP scrums but also gave away penalties, once for pulling down a maul. Someone tell him you can't – thank God – do that any more.
2 MATTHEW REES 6/10
The odd line-out miss could have been costly but in general the Welshman was solid. Lee Mears for the Test team, and this bloke or Ross Ford, who came on for him, for the bench. Probably Rees, after Ford missed a couple of throws.
3 PHIL VICKERY 7/10
Gets to wear the 'I won the first scrum penalty' badge for the next few days, for twisting Wicus Blaauw into something approximating a double helix, which set the tone for the day. Up for a Test slot. Scotland's Euan Murray came on after 57 minutes to carry on the good work, winning the vital penalty.
4 DONNCHA O'CALLAGHAN 7/10
Solid at the line-out, at No 2, where the ball tends to go on mucky days. Not to blame the Irishman specifically, but again the home side's maul was a bit better than that belonging to the tourists. Quite worrying. You wouldn't worry with this chap in the Tests, though.
5 NATHAN HINES 7/10
The Lions pack had nine stone on WP – this fellow would have accounted for most of it. Started aggressively... which is an observation akin to saying grizzly bears go to the forest to complete their toilet, true, but is pertinent all the same. If you want to bash the Boks, you've got to make sure they stay bashed. Capable of subtlety too; a good bet for a Test spot. Simon Shaw had the last 20, came out of the line too early before Pietersen's try and butchered a short line-out. Has had better 20-minute spells.
6 JOE WORSLEY 7/10
Back on the blindside after suffering on the openside last week and by no-side he had tackled himself into the ground. Carried well and put in some canny runs and tugs off the ball. Wasn't in the frame at No 7 but might be at No 6, as a rock-solid defensive option. Tom Croft trotted on for the last 10 minutes. He's in the Test picture too and so, now, because of the next individual in this list, is David Wallace.
7 MARTYN WILLIAMS 7/10
For long-ish periods, found it tough to get at Willem de Waal, the home fly-half, or to link in attack. For Bowe's try and on a couple of other occasions, though, you saw just how he can play that linking role, in Bowe's case with a lovely, clever little pass. Didn't totally sort the breakdown, but scored a try at the side of one.
8 ANDY POWELL 6/10
Joined Hines in handing out a bit of biff, sometimes counter-productively, as at the driving maul that preceded De Waal's drop goal and, late on, with a 'look, no hands' tackle. Set up Bowe's try with a great take and charge, though.Reuse content