Lions roar to 36 point victory

Sharks 3 British & Irish Lions 39
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The Independent Online

The British and Irish Lions continued their unbeaten march through South Africa by sinking the Sharks in impressive fashion at ABSA Stadium.

They built serenely on a 7-3 interval advantage to take charge after the break.

Hooker Lee Mears, scrum-half Mike Phillips, wing Luke Fitzgerald, full-back Lee Byrne and number eight Jamie Heaslip scored tries, while 12 points from the boot of fly-half Ronan O'Gara and a late James Hook conversion sealed an emphatic success.

The Sharks, without several of their Springbok stars, were blown away on a breezy evening alongside the Indian Ocean.

They defended manfully during the opening 40 minutes as a Rory Kockott penalty kept them in touch, but there was no stopping the Lions during a one-sided period.

For the second successive midweek game, they did not concede a point after the break, and they have now scored 176 points in four games building towards next week's first Test against world champions South Africa on the same ground.

Phillips ran the show, and he was among several players who underlined their Test team credentials.

Centres Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts again proved a solid midfield partnership, while Mears removed any doubt about his status as the Lions' premier hooker.

And the tourists now move on to Cape Town, where Western Province await on Saturday, with confidence high that they can face South Africa boasting an unbeaten record.

There were also impressive contributions from prop Adam Jones and O'Gara, which is exactly what Lions head coach Ian McGeechan wants - competition for places - before he finalises his Test line-up.

The Lions had lost flanker Stephen Ferris and wing Leigh Halfpenny from their tour during the previous 24 hours, both sidelined by injuries.

But Durban's old Kings Park had special memories for the tourists, as it was the venue where they toppled world champions South Africa 12 years ago to clinch a stunning Test series triumph.

There was an early dust-up between the forwards - Lions prop Gethin Jenkins and Sharks flanker Jean Deysel were protagonists - as the tourists established initial territorial control.

The Sharks were stretched defensively, yet they continued to hold out as the Lions conceded two penalties in attack that thwarted their try-scoring ambitions.

Roberts then took a bang to his shoulder that resulted in substitute Riki Flutey warming up, but the Wales centre continued after prolonged treatment.

The Lions should have scored approaching the end of the first quarter when O'Driscoll intercepted and raced 70 metres, but he was caught and tackled by Sharks substitute Lwazi Mvovo.

The Lions' pressure had to tell, and after 23 minutes the Sharks finally buckled.

Phillips sniped from the scrum base, which proved enough to disrupt the Sharks defence, and Mears crashed over from close range.

O'Gara slotted the conversion, but the Sharks quickly cut their deficit when Kockott landed a 30-metre penalty.

The Sharks continued to defend with superb organisation, frustrating a Lions outfit that remained camped in their hosts' 22.

Watched by the Springboks squad, who were in Durban for a training camp ahead of the first Test on Saturday week, the Lions had hardly ripped up trees despite spending almost the entire first half on top.

They nearly extended their lead when O'Gara placed a cross-kick behind the Sharks' line, but wing Shane Williams spilled possession and the chance went begging.

The Lions though, needed just 75 seconds of the second period to extend their advantage.

Flanker Tom Croft won quality lineout ball, and Phillips set off on a weaving run that ended with him touching down and extending the lead to 12-3.

O'Gara could not convert, yet the Lions had stepped up a gear and quality attacking work by Williams and Roberts almost resulted in another try.

O'Gara then landed a 48th-minute penalty, extending the Lions' lead to 12 points as the Sharks struggled to live with the pace of an energised visiting effort.

Sharks flanker Jacques Botes was fortunate to avoid a yellow card when he knocked the ball out of Phillips' hands, but O'Gara punished him by slotting the resulting penalty.

The Lions, 15 points clear, were home and dry and the Sharks were showing signs of wilting.

The Lions were in total control, and a powerful surge by O'Driscoll resulted in a try for supporting wing Luke Fitzgerald.

O'Gara converted, and there was more to come just seven minutes later when Byrne sprinted over from deep, with O'Gara again adding the extras.

McGeechan was able to ring the changes, with O'Connell, Roberts and Mears among those whose work was done well inside the distance.

Substitute prop Phil Vickery was sin-binned late in the game for killing possession, but it made no difference to the overall picture, and it was quickly cancelled out when Sharks number eight Keegan Daniel followed suit after a trip on Williams.

Heaslip added a final try in stoppage-time, converted by Hook, for a 36-point victory the Lions richly deserved.