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Lions Survive Western Province Scare

Lions Survive Western Province Scare

A late penalty kick from James Hook nudged the British & Irish Lions to a narrow win over a gutsy Western Province side, with Ireland’s Tommy Bowe, who scored a try and set up one for Ugo Monye, amongst the players who took a step closer to the tourists’ Test team.

2009 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR: Saturday, June 13

WESTERN PROVINCE 23 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 26, Newlands (Att: 34,176)

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Scorers: Western Province: Try: Joe Pietersen; Pens: Willem de Waal 4; Drops: Willem de Waal, Joe Pietersen
Lions: Tries: Tommy Bowe, Ugo Monye, Martyn Williams; Con: Stephen Jones; Pens: Stephen Jones 2, James Hook

A 26-23 victory over Currie Cup outfit Western Province ensured the Lions maintained their 100% record ahead of next weekend’s vital first Test against the Springboks in Durban.

Ian McGeechan’s men outscored their hosts by three tries to one but were left to rely on a 77th minute penalty from replacement full-back James Hook on a wet and windy afternoon at Newlands.

First half tries from the in-form Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye, together with a 55th minute effort from Martyn Williams and eight points from Stephen Jones, had kept the Lions’ noses in front before Joe Pietersen’s try threatened to bring an end to their fine start to the 10-match tour.

Fortunately for the tourists, the previously reliable Willem de Waal failed with his conversion attempt to leave the scores tied at 23-23 with 64 minutes on the clock.

The remaining quarter-of-an hour proved to be a nervy affair, but the Lions kept their composure to ensure the momentum continues to build towards the three-game series with the reigning World champions.

Dominance in the scrum played a key role in proceedings, particularly in the latter stages when the Lions could easily have let victory slip from their grasp, while Hook deserves great credit for somehow firing the Lions to victory from close to 50 metres despite the presence of a swirling wind.

Cape Town is renowned for its erratic weather conditions and the driving rain and unpredictable breeze certainly did not prove conducive to attractive, running rugby yet the Lions still managed to claim three touchdowns of the highest order.

The majority of the opening half was dominated by the boot, with two Jones penalties being superseded by a penalty and a drop goal from de Waal and a further drop from full-back Pietersen.

The result was a three-point advantage to the home side after 27 minutes before two superb tries turned the game in the Lions’ favour.

Bowe was heavily involved in both efforts, somehow escaping the clutches of Pietersen to cross for the first on 28 minutes before slicing through the Western Province defence to set up his wing partner Monye for the second.

Andy Powell confidently claimed a high ball on his own 10-metre line wide on the left before charging through the opposition and taking play back towards centre-field.

Rather than going to ground, the Wales number 8 kept the ball alive with a deft offload to countryman Martyn Williams.

The Lions openside performed his traditional link role perfectly, taking the ball from Powell, turning his back into the onrushing defence and feeding scrum half Harry Ellis to keep the visitors well and truly on the front foot.

Ellis moved possession wide, Keith Earls provided a decoy run and Rob Kearney supplied the scoring pass.

Bowe still had plenty to do but, just as he had done in the opening two matches on tour, the Grand Slam winner made light work of what was in front of him.

Three Western Province defenders were unable to bring Bowe to ground as he spun out of one tackle and ran straight through two more before forcing the ball down five metres in from the right-hand touchline.

Jones was off target with the attempted extras but he made no mistake from an identical position on the opposite side of the pitch following Monye’s 35th-minute score.

This time Bowe turned creator, taking Jones’ pass behind the first line of attackers on halfway and gliding between the Western Province midfield before producing a brilliant offload that set Monye free.

Bowe’s floated five-metre pass allowed Monye the time and space to continue at full speed and slide over the try-line, using the wet ground to his advantage.

It was a very good half for Bowe, Kearney hardly put a foot wrong at full-back and their Ireland team-mate Donncha O’Callaghan was prominent in both the lineout and the loose.

Jones’ successful conversion gave the Lions a nine-point advantage and, with the way in which they finished the games against the Sharks and the Golden Lions, it looked as though they may run away with proceedings now that they had finally established some breathing space.

It was not to be, however, as Western Province showed the same kind of character displayed by the Sharks for 40 minutes on Wednesday for a full 80 this afternoon.

Penalties either side of half-time from de Waal immediately cut the deficit to just three points and, although Williams’ try again hinted at what might have been for the Lions, the hosts refused to give up the fight.

Whereas the tries from Bowe and Monye had come from quick ball and expert finishing out wide, Williams’ effort was a far more conservative, yet equally impressive score.

Forward power allowed the Lions to recycle passion repeatedly inside the Western Province 22, with the squad collective preventing anyone player from breaking off without the support of his team-mates.

Patience was the key as the Lions continued to drive forward and Williams was the man to spot the gap when it finally opened up.

The experienced flanker marked his return from a shoulder injury with a timely reminder of his abilities and it was he who broke off the back of a maul as it descended into another ruck four metres shy of the opposition line.

Williams spotted scrum half Dewaldt Duvenage defending the narrow blindside and simply barged his way past him to send the Lions 23-15 clear with 25 minutes left to play.

Jones failed with the attempted conversion from wide on the left but it again appeared as though the Lions may have received the boost they needed to move and control the remainder of the match.

The Lions failed to build on that advantage, though, as a fourth penalty from de Waal brought the home side back to within a single score.

And the sides were back on level terms when Pietersen dotted down in the left corner, following a strong burst from second row Anton Van Zyl, and suddenly the Lions were in real danger of falling to a shock defeat.

Momentum was back with the South African side and the Newlands crowd sensed a first victory over the Lions since 1938.

The Lions could easily have folded and therefore suffered a major setback prior to next Saturday’s clash with the Springboks but instead they stuck to their task and finished the stronger of the two sides.

Just as they had done against both the Cheetahs and the Royal XV earlier in the tour, the Lions stayed focused under pressure and were rewarded for that composure when they were given a brace of penalties in the closing stages.

Hook missed with the first of those attempts just three minutes after coming on for dead leg victim Kearney.

But the 23-year-old Ospreys star made no mistake with the second to secure another valuable victory for the Lions.

TIME LINE: 4 minutes – Western Province penalty: Willem de Waal – 3-0; 6 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Stephen Jones – 3-3; 11 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Stephen Jones – 3-6; 13 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: missed by Stephen Jones – 3-6; 19 mins – Western Province drop goal: Willem de Waal – 6-6; 27 mins – Western Province drop goal: Joe Pietersen – 9-6; 28 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Tommy Bowe – 9-11; conversion: missed by Stephen Jones – 9-11; 35 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Ugo Monye – 9-16; conversion: Stephen Jones – 9-18; 40 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Willem de Waal – 12-18; Half-time – Western Province 12 British & Irish Lions 18; 46 mins – Western Province penalty: missed by Willem de Waal – 12-18; 48 mins – Western Province penalty: Willem de Waal – 15-18; 56 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Martyn Williams – 15-23; conversion: missed by Stephen Jones – 15-23; 60 mins – Western Province penalty: Willem de Waal – 18-23; 64 mins – Western Province try: Joe Pietersen – 23-23; conversion: missed by Willem de Waal – 23-23; 67 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: missed by James Hook – 23-23; 77 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: James Hook – 23-26; Full-time – Western Province 23 British & Irish Lions 26

WESTERN PROVINCE: Joe Pietersen; Tonderai Chavhanga, Morgan Newman, Peter Grant, Gcobani Bobo; Willem de Waal, Dewaldt Duvenage; Wicus Blaauw, Tiaan Liebenberg, Brok Harris, Martin Muller, Anton Van Zyl, Pieter Louw, Duane Vermeulen, Luke Watson (capt).

Replacements used: Gio Aplon for Chavhanga (38 mins), De Kock Steenkamp for Muller (65), Zandre Jordaan for Louw (73), JD Moller for Blaauw (75). Not used: Hanyani Shimange, Conrad Hoffmann, JJ Engelbrecht.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland); Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland), Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland), Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England), Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England); Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England); Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England), Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales), Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England) (capt), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland), Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland), Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England), Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales).

Replacements used: Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland) for Rees, Euan Murray (Northampton/Scotland) for Vickery, Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England) for Hines (all 57 mins), James Hook (Ospreys/Wales) for Kearney (64), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England) for Worsley (69). Not used: Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland).

Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)