Hook puts boot into Cheetahs but Lions fail to break Free

Cheetahs 24 British & Irish Lions 26: Below-par tourists avoid defeat by an inch after a mighty scare

Forget the Wednesday night waltz in Johannesburg. South African rugby showed its hard face at the Free State Stadium yesterday, the locals testing the Lions to the limit in a compelling game ultimately decided by the strength of the tourists' set-piece and the two or three centimetres that denied Louis Strydom a match-winning drop goal a minute into stoppage time. Strydom struck boldly from near the halfway line, but saw his kick slide to the right of the posts. It could barely have been closer.

But for the Lions' scrum – and, to a slightly lesser extent, their line-out – the Free Staters would have won. They made life horribly difficult for the tourists at the breakdown, robbing them of possession like some band of rugby-playing highwaymen. Joe Worsley, pressed into service at openside flanker because of Martyn Williams' shoulder injury, could not reproduce his England form in the position, and found himself being replaced by a lock forward in Nathan Hines.

There was not much to savour from the back division, either. Indeed, there were times yesterday when the Saturday side gave an uncanny impression of a Lions midweek team in a state of late-tour depression. Something will have to change ahead of the Test series with the Springboks. Something very substantial.

Much had been said about the prospects of a first-rate dust-up in this match – not on the scale of the 1997 conflict with Mpumalanga in Witbank, perhaps, but a frank and earnest exchange of opinion all the same. Judging by the way the Cheetahs tore into the tackle area from the first whistle, with the highly-rated flanker Heinrich Brussow and the hooker Adriaan Strauss to the fore, it seemed the home side had indeed decided on an ultra-physical approach, and when the second scrum broke up in a flurry of two-man scraps, the suspicion was confirmed. Euan Murray, the Lions tight-head prop, and his direct opponent, Wian du Preez, were the men singled out for a lecture.

James Hook, perfectly at home with his long-range kicking in the thin air of the high veld, settled things down with an opening penalty on seven minutes, and it signalled a spell of rich pickings for the Lions. First, there was a bizarre try for Stephen Ferris, who covered the 35 metres to the line in glorious isolation after snaffling some ruck ball from under the nose of Tewis de Bruyn, the home scrum-half. Then, there was a magnificent strike from another Irishman, the centre Keith Earls, who latched on to a clever midfield chip from Hook and stepped twice off his right foot to flummox the Cheetahs' defence.

It could not have felt sweeter for Earls, who had suffered all the torments of sporting purgatory during last week's opening match in Rustenburg. While the midfield combination of the young Munsterman and Luke Fitzgerald bore no resemblance to the dynamic Jamie Roberts-Brian O'Driscoll partnership that ripped up the Golden Lions in Johannesburg, it was reassuring to see Earls' confidence partially restored.

Early in the second quarter, the Lions had built a 20-point lead. The fun did not last. With Brussow working overtime at the breakdown, the Cheetahs finally won themselves some front-foot possession and sent De Bruyn scuttling into the 22, supported by the full-back Hennie Daniller. Ferris killed the ball on the floor and was given a 10-minute rest without the option by Wayne Barnes, the referee. In that instant, the tenor of the game changed.

Just shy of the half-hour, Brussow drove hard off the base of a scrum and the Free Staters sent the super-quick wing Danwel Demas over at the corner for a try handsomely converted by Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Eight minutes later, the outstanding Brussow made another intervention at close quarters, enabling De Bruyn to put the substantial Du Preez within rumbling range. The prop duly did the business, smashing through Lee Byrne for another converted try. Hook's injury-time penalty gave the Lions a nine-point lead at the interval, but the worm had turned.

The second half turned out to be a serious trial for the Lions. Hook's marksmanship just about kept them ahead of the game, but a late interception try from Corne Uys, who pounced on a loose pass from Shane Williams, gave them a nasty dose of the heebie-jeebies.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam