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Lions Let Lead Slip In Cape Town

Lions Let Lead Slip In Cape Town

Keith Earls scored a try and Ronan O’Gara, Donncha O’Callaghan and Luke Fitzgerald all boosted their chances of featuring in the second Test, but a late converted try saw the Emerging Springboks secure a draw with the Lions in Tuesday’s rain-hit clash in Cape Town.

2009 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR: Tuesday, June 23

EMERGING SPRINGBOKS 13 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 13, Newlands, Cape Town (Att: 39,418)

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Scorers: Emerging Springboks: Try: Danwel Demas; Con: Willem de Waal; Pens: Earl Rose 2
British & Irish Lions: Try: Keith Earls; Con: Ronan O’Gara; Pens: Ronan O’Gara, James Hook

The Lions had appeared to be on their way to their seventh straight victory over non-Test opposition until Willem de Waal converted Danwel Demas’ try with the final play of the match.

An early Keith Earls try and a Ronan O’Gara penalty had given the Lions a 10-point lead before the Emerging Springboks closed the gap to a single score at half-time thanks to a penalty from senior Springbok squad member Earl Rose.

Rose then cut the deficit to just four points after 47 minutes but a late penalty from replacement out-half James Hook seemed to have clinched victory for the Lions at the same ground in which the Welshman’s boot had seen off Western Province.

It was not to be for the Lions, however, as de Waal’s floated pass found Demas unmarked on the right wing in the 80th minute and he slid over in the corner for the score.

The siren signalling the end of the match sounded as de Waal lined up his conversion attempt from the right touchline, but somehow the Stormers pivot kept his nerve to secure a famous result for the most promising uncapped players in the Republic.

Victory would have seen Ian McGeechan’s men finish with a 100% tour record against provincial, Super 14, invitational and non-Test opposition but a draw at least means the tourists end their non-Test fixtures unbeaten.

Conditions in Cape Town were nothing short of horrendous with torrential downpours a feature throughout the 80 minutes and that clearly had an effect on Lions skipper O’Gara when he lined up his first penalty of the day inside four minutes.

The Lions should have moved 3-0 in front courtesy of O’Gara’s boot when impressive continuity from a Lions pack well marshalled by Harry Ellis eventually wore down the Emerging ‘Boks defence, forcing the home side to give away a penalty almost straight in front of the posts.

The conditions underfoot got the better of O’Gara, however, as he pulled his 25-metre effort wide of the left-hand post.

The Munster and Ireland out-half had little difficulty putting points on the board six minutes later, though, as he kicked an even more straightforward effort from just 10 metres out.

Whereas the first scoring opportunity of the match came about thanks to the efforts of the Lions pack, the second penalty award was a result of some fine running by both wings.

Shane Williams was the first to do damage, breaking through the first line of defence before Luke Fitzgerald followed suit in the same passage of play.

Again the Emerging ‘Boks gave away a penalty with the Lions looking for more and this time O’Gara made the most of the opportunity.

The Lions’ only try of the match arrived with a quarter of the game played, after a mistake from the Emerging ‘Boks full-back Zane Kirchner.

Having been a part of the Bulls’ Super 14-winning squad earlier this season, Kirchner had been talked about as a possible replacement for the injured Conrad Jantjes in the South African senior side but the 24-year-old let himself down by gifting the Lions possession.

Kirchner’s attempted kick ahead fell straight into the mid-rift of Martyn Williams, with the Lions openside immediately feeding Riki Flutey on the Emerging ‘Boks’ 10-metre line.

Knowing he would not have the pace to outsprint the final defender wide on the right, Flutey stepped back inside, the Lions recycled possession and Earls did the rest.

Despite the fact that the opposition had time to realign in defence, Earls sliced through untouched.

The youngest member of the Lions squad stepped inside scrum half Jano Vermaak, as the Emerging ‘Boks drifted across field, to claim his second try in Lions colours.

O’Gara’s conversion from just to the right of the posts took the Lions into double figures in what had been a pleasing start following the disappointment of Saturday’s Test defeat to South Africa.

Conditions got even worse throughout the half, with understandable handling errors bringing play to a halt on numerous occasions.

A penalty from Rose was the only other score of the first period, with the Emerging ‘Boks out-half kicking a 35-metre effort on 35 minutes after sending an earlier long distance attempt well wide of the left-hand upright.

The first action of the second half saw Rose miss the target with a drop goal attempt, but it was the Lions who initially came closest to adding to their try count.

A mistake at a lineout on the Emerging ‘Boks 22 saw Donncha O’Callaghan hack through only to be beaten to the loose ball over the whitewash by home captain Dewald Potgieter.

Rose then narrowed the gap to 10-6 after the Lions backs were penalised for being offside in their own 22.

Neither side were able to maintain possession for long enough to trouble the try-line for the remainder of the match and, when Hook sent over his first and only penalty four minutes from time, it looked as the Lions were on their way to a morale-boosting victory.

That was until Demas and de Waal stepped up. Queue a well-taken try, an expertly-struck conversion and wild celebrations from anyone and everyone in Springbok colours.

It was a fair result, as many of the Lions players admitted afterwards, as the Emerging ‘Boks had the better of possession and territory in the second period.

Earls, apart from taking his try with great aplomb, was solid at full-back and kicked well under pressure from chasers.

Gordon D’Arcy got through an amout of work in midfield. Little was seen of the Wexford man in attack, but he did a lot of donkey work around the fringes, putting in tackle after tackle, clearing out when called upon and competing well at the breakdown.

O’Callaghan imposed himself on the game also, combining well with Nathan Hines in the second row and offering a physical presence around the pitch.

Fitzgerald, meanwhile, was tidy in defence and had one notable break in the first half when his support was slightly slow. Overall, he may have done enough to convince McGeechan that he should make Saturday’s squad.  

Mention too must go to Irish referee Alain Rolland who kept a very good handle on play, sorted out any scrum or discipline issues very promptly and he also gave the players the benefit of the doubt in the rain-soaked conditions.

Although Tuesday’s match ended on a somewhat of a sour note, the Lions can now at least focus solely on the remaining two games of the three-match Test series against the senior Springbok side.

The first of those two fixtures takes place this Saturday at Loftus Versfeld with the Lions knowing a victory is essential if they are to keep their hopes of series victory alive, going into the third and final Test in Johannesburg seven days later.

TIME LINE: 4 minutes – British & Irish Lions penalty: missed by Ronan O’Gara – 0-0; 9 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Ronan O’Gara – 0-3; 15 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Keith Earls – 0-8; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 0-10; 20 mins – Emerging Springboks penalty: missed by Earl Rose – 0-10; 37 mins – Emerging Springboks penalty: Earl Rose – 3-10; Half-time – Emerging Springboks 3 British & Irish Lions 10; 50 mins – Emerging Springboks penalty: Earl Rose – 6-10; 77 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: James Hook – 6-13; 80 mins – Emerging Springboks try: Danwel Demas – 11-13; conversion: Willem de Waal – 13-13; Full-time – Emerging Springboks 13 British & Irish Lions 13

EMERGING SPRINGBOKS: Zane Kirchner (Blue Bulls); Luzuko Vulindlu (Sharks), Deon van Rensburg (Leopards), Morgan Newman (Western Province), Bjorn Basson (Griquas); Earl Rose (Golden Lions), Jano Vermaak (Golden Lions); Wian du Preez (Free State Cheetahs), Bandise Maku (Blue Bulls), Werner Kruger (Blue Bulls), Steven Sykes (Sharks), Wilhelm Steenkamp (Blue Bulls), Dewald Potgieter (Blue Bulls) (capt), Jean Deysel (Sharks), Duane Vermeulen (Western Province).

Replacements used: Tiaan Liebenberg (Western Province) for Maku, Willem de Waal (Western Province) for van Rensburg (both 53 mins), Patric Cilliers (Sharks) for du Preez, Franco van der Merwe (Golden Lions) for Sykes, Jacques Botes (Sharks) for Deysel, Heini Adams (Blue Bulls) for Vermaak (all 64), Danwel Demas (Free State Cheetahs) for Basson (73).

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland); Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales), Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland); Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland) (capt), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England); Tim Payne (London Wasps/England), Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland), John Hayes (Munster/Ireland), 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: James Hook (Ospreys/Wales) for O’Gara (45 mins), Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England) for Hines (57), Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England) for Fitzgerald (65), Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England) for Hayes (67), David Wallace (Munster/Ireland) for Powell (68), Lee Mears (Bath/England) for Ford (75). Not used: Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland).

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)