Lions scrap to victory in Durban
June 10, 2009
Fullback Lee Byrne was on the scoresheet for the Lions in Durban
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The British & Irish Lions produced a cohesive second-half display to defeat the Sharks 39-3 at Kings Park in Durban.
English hooker Lee Mears got the Lions underway with the only try of the first-half before Mike Phillips, Luke Fitzgerald, Lee Byrne and the superb Jamie Heaslip all crossed in the second period. Jamie Roberts again impressed alongside Brian O'Driscoll but the tourists' breakdown blues continued.
The Lions went in to the game with several possible Test combinations intact, including centres Roberts and O'Driscoll and the back-row of Tom Croft, David Wallace and Heaslip. The Springbok squad watched from the stands as the Lions went about their business against capped internationals Johann Muller, Jannie du Plessis and Deon Carstens.
The blustery conditions at pitch level were seen immediately, with the kick-off taken away from the waiting Lions and an early penalty turned down by Ronan O'Gara in favour of a chip to the corner. From the lineout the Lions worked a powerful maul but lost the ball to a contentious decision on the floor.
The tourists were quick to continue the early pressure, with the ball spread well to a sharp Luke Fitzgerald before their forwards were again denied on the Sharks' try-line by the whistle of referee Jonathan Kaplan. Roberts provided yet more impetus for the tourists with a powerful surge through the middle - Sharks players hanging from his frame as he powered towards the posts. His burst led to a five-metre scrum from which Heaslip was held-up over the line, but from the resulting scrum the ball flew out of the other side untouched for Terblanche to clear the danger.
As the clock ticked past 15 minutes the Lions had failed to turn their dominance of possession and territory in to points, and were handed a worrying moment when Roberts underwent treatment following a shuddering hit from Monty Dumont. His centre partner O'Driscoll almost broke the deadlock when he picked off a loose pass on his 22 and set off for the posts only for replacement Lwazi Mvovo to chase him down and force a knock-on with inches to spare.
With the heralded O'Driscoll having failed to break the deadlock, the task fell to a member of the Lions' front-row union, hooker Mears. Following a pedestrian Lions maul Phillips produced a trademark dummy and snipe from the ruck, offloading to Heaslip. The Irish No.8 was halted short before the alert Mears burrowed over from close range.
O'Gara converted before the Sharks drew three points back through Rory Kockott's boot - Gethin Jenkins unfairly penalised at the scrum in what would become a recurring theme. O'Gara turned down a further shot at goal when Jacques Botes was penalised - the Lions forwards again keeping it tight from the lineout and losing the ball with yet another turnover in the face of some heroic home defence. With Roberts and O'Driscoll waiting, the Lions would have been far better served in looking to stretch their hosts.
With half-time fast approaching the Lions launched one final assault as O'Gara hoisted his second cross kick of the evening towards the onrushing Byrne and Williams. Williams failed to gather but Byrne followed up to touch down, taking a shoulder to the head in the process. The TMO ruled that the ball had gone forward off Williams - and the Lions headed in at half-time with looks of frustration on their faces.
With the officiating at the scrum and their continuing issues on the floor causing problems for the tourists, scrum-half Phillips provided the perfect antidote with a try within moments of the restart. Using quick possession created by the crash-ball tactics of Heaslip, Phillips dummied the defence and set off towards the line, rounding the two remaining defenders and diving over in the corner.
O'Gara missed the conversion and was let off the hook when Kockott was short with a long range effort before Roberts put the Lions back on the front foot with another burst of power. The chance was wasted with another needless kick from O'Gara. As the ball bounced in goal Kaplan called the Lions back for a penalty, which the Munster fly-half converted for a 15-3 lead.
Phillips' distribution picked up pace as the half wore on, with the Lions finally generating some quick ball. After another prolonged period of pressure in the shadow of the Sharks' posts O'Gara again elected for the boot - a game-plan that didn't work all evening - and his poor decision was again saved by the whistle of Kaplan and another infringement from Botes.
With the penalty converted the Sharks' fractious defence created a frantic period of play with myriad turnovers stopping either side from working an opening. With the Lions getting sucked in they lost their shape, but had some quick work from Croft, Byrne and O'Driscoll to thank for their third try soon after. Croft started the move with a pacy burst before Byrne's quick hands found O'Driscoll on the overlap. The veteran Lion raced up the touchline, bamboozling Terblanche before popping the ball out to the unmarked Fitzgerald.
Skipper O'Connell and Roberts were withdrawn for the closing stages, Roberts having his shoulder strapped as a precaution, allowing Simon Shaw and Riki Flutey to make their second appearances on tour. Heaslip continued to provide a willing outlet whenever the Lions were in trouble, his carrying always providing extra space. That space was expertly exploited by O'Driscoll when he found Byrne with a floated pass, the Welsh fullback showing a huge fend and electric turn of pace to outstrip the Sharks defence to score the Lions' fourth try.
Replacement prop Phil Vickery saw yellow after angering referee Kaplan at the breakdown, and was swiftly followed on to the bench by Sharks No.8 Keegan Daniel, who was guilty of a cynical trip on Williams. With the Sharks pinned on their line by the Lions they gamely looked to run the ball out of defence, only for Wallace to secure the vital turnover. The man to profit was Heaslip, capping an excellent, potentially Test-place securing, performance with the final score.
Sharks: Stefan Terblanche; Chris Jordaan, Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel, Luzuko Vulindlu; Monty Dumond, Rory Kockott; Deon Carstens, Skipper Badenhorst, Jannie du Plessis, Steven Sykes, Johann Muller (captain), Jacques Botes, Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel
Replacements: Craig Burden, Patric Cilliers, Albert van den Berg, Michael Rhodes, Charl McLeod, Guy Cronje, Lwazi Mvovo
British & Irish Lions: Lee Byrne (Ospreys & Wales); Shane Williams (Ospreys & Wales), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster & Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues & Wales), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster & Ireland); Ronan O'Gara (Munster & Ireland), Mike Phillips (Ospreys & Wales); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues & Wales), Lee Mears (Bath & England), Adam Jones (Ospreys & Wales), Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys & Wales), Paul O'Connell (Munster & Ireland, captain), Tom Croft (Leicester & England), David Wallace (Munster & Ireland), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster & Ireland).
Replacements: Mathew Rees (Scarlets & Wales), Phil Vickery (Wasps & England), Simon Shaw (Wasps & England), Joe Worsley (Wasps & England), Mike Blair (Edinburgh & Scotland), Riki Flutey (Wasps & England), James Hook(Ospreys & Wales).
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant referee: Wayne Barnes (England), Jaco Peyper Television match official: Shaun Veldsman
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.