Lions held by Emerging Springboks
June 23, 2009
Keith Earls scored the Lions' opening try at Newlands
© Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions were held 13-13 by a dogged Emerging Springboks side at Newlands in their final midweek match of the tour.
The Lions pulled ahead thanks to a try from fullback Keith Earls and penalties from skipper Ronan O'Gara and replacement fly-half James Hook, but were dramatically undone by a late try from replacement Danwel Demas and a nerveless conversion from Western Province fly-half Willem de Waal.
Several of the Lions contingent had eyes on places in the side for the second Test at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. Wales winger Shane Williams enhanced his claims with a performance tinged with maturity and composure, although it is doubtful that he did enough to get the nod, while locks Donncha O'Callaghan, Nathan Hines and Simon Shaw provided muscular reminders of their tight game.
With their first-half horror-show from Saturday's Test still fresh in the memory, the Lions were in need of a quick start at a wet and windy Newlands. Props Tim Payne and John Hayes were thrown in at the deep end a matter of days after arriving on tour, with both aware that a place on the bench for the second Test was an outside shot given Andrew Sheridan's injury struggles and Phil Vickery's mauling at the hands of the 'Beast', Tendai Mtawarira.
O'Gara missed a straightforward chance to open the scoring after three minutes when he hooked a penalty generated by some muscular and patient work for the Lions' forwards, but some quick work from Luke Fitzgerald and Williams brought good position for the Lions and a second shot for O'Gara.
The fly-half converted after the Boks' skipper Dewald Potgieter had read the riot act to his side, but the home side wasted a good early chance soon after with another offence at a ruck. The Boks were building good momentum following strong work at a lineout deep within Lions territory, with eerie echoes of John Smit's score on Saturday, but squandered the chance when Wian du Preez flew in at the side.
Their profligacy was punished to the full by the tourists when fullback Zane Kirchner tamely chipped the ball on to the arms of the waiting Martyn Williams, who fired the ball to Riki Flutey. Straining hard and with a bandaged knee Flutey could not make the line, but the ball was recycled well through Payne before Keith Earls produced a devastating step inside Janno Vermaak to score under the posts.
Boks fly-half Rose, released from the full South Africa squad, saw his first shot at goal spiral horribly wide in the face of an apocalyptic downpour as the Lions were again penalised at the scrum. With conditions conspiring against both sides there were a series of handling errors interspersed with a powerful burst from Andy Powell and a series of excellent kicks under the circumstances from O'Gara, Rose and Vermaak.
Following some precise work at the breakdown and a quick tap from Williams the Lions flooded forward, Earls carrying in to the heart of the Boks before the ball was turned over when Powell went route one. The home side responded in kind with a break of their own, ended by a forward pass from Bjorn Basson. From the scrum, Ellis was found wanting. His slip behind a solid platform saw Vermaak make big gains before the Lions were forced to concede a penalty. Rose made no mistake from close range.
Immediately after the break Ellis had another moment to forget when he fumbled the restart, allowing the Emerging Boks to pile on the pressure early on. Rose missed a snap drop-goal under pressure from the Lions' midfield, while O'Callaghan claimed for a try following some loose play from the Boks but got little change out of the TMO.
Vermaak's kicking game improved as the half wore on, his towering Garryowens terrorising Earls. After one such kick the young Munsterman bundled the ball back to Hook, who was forced to carry the ball over his try line and concede a five metre scrum. From the ensuing phase the Lions backs, in a staggering lack of discipline, lined up metres offside and allowed Rose an easy shot at goal to make the score 10-6 to the tourists.
As the elements continued to hamper any running rugby, Earls' blushes were spared by a superb piece of defence from Williams. Following a slice by the fullback Williams was the latest to suffer under Vermaak's boot, the Osprey claiming a mark, tapping and clearing 50 metres in one fluid movement.
Rose hooked a straightforward chance to draw his side to within a single point, his miss made all the more irritating by the introduction of replacement fly-half and metronomic kicker de Waal moments earlier.
A spate of replacements for both sides slowed the game to a virtual crawl, although the introduction of Ugo Monye, David Wallace and Vickery perhaps signal the management's desire for another look at certain combinations ahead of the second Test. As time ticked on, the young South Africans sensed an opportunity and the Lions were forced to look over their shoulders as the final whistle approached.
Hook looked lively in broken play, but was let down on several occasions by poor handling around his breaks. Earls took the sting out of the Emerging Boks' possession with a superb kick in to their territory, from which the Lions drew a penalty. Vickery made a personal statement by forcing the decision out of his opposing prop, Hook making no mistake to extend the lead to a converted try.
Hook immediately invited further pressure with a poor clearance down the middle, the Emerging Boks drawing a penalty after the Lions were penalised at the breakdown. Rose drilled his side deep in to Lions territory and from the lineout the Boks whipped the ball wide to replacement winger Demas, the speedster scoring his second against the Lions after also registering one for the Cheetahs. De Waal picked up the ball for the conversion, and was dead-eyed through the rain to secure a mighty blow for South African rugby.
Emerging Springboks: Zane Kirchner (Blue Bulls), Luzuko Vulindlu (The Sharks), Deon van Rensburg (Leopards), Morgan Newman (Western Province), Bjorn Basson (Griquas), Earl Rose (Golden Lions), Jano Vermaak (Golden Lions), Duane Vermeulen (Western Province), Jean Deysel (The Sharks), Dewald Potgieter (c) (Blue Bulls), Wilhelm Steenkamp (Blue Bulls), Steven Sykes (The Sharks), Werner Kruger (Blue Bulls), Bandise Maku (Blue Bulls), Wian du Preez (Free State Cheetahs)
Replacements: Tiaan Liebenberg (Western Province), Pat Cilliers (The Sharks), Franco van der Merwe (Golden Lions), Jacques Botes (The Sharks), Heini Adams (Blue Bulls), Willem de Waal (Western Province), Danwel Demas (Free State Cheetahs)
British & Irish Lions: Keith Earls (Munster and Ireland); Shane Williams (Ospreys and Wales), Riki Flutey (Wasps and England), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster and Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster and Ireland); Ronan O'Gara (Munster and Ireland, capt), Harry Ellis (Leicester and England); Tim Payne (Wasps and England), Ross Ford (Edinburgh and Scotland), John Hayes (Munster and Ireland), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster and Ireland), Nathan Hines (Perpignan and Scotland), Joe Worsley (Wasps and England), Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues and Wales), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues and Wales).
Replacements: Lee Mears (Bath and England), Phil Vickery (Wasps and England), Simon Shaw (Wasps and England), David Wallace (Munster and Ireland), Mike Blair (Edinburgh and Scotland), James Hook (Ospreys and Wales), Ugo Monye (Harlequins and England).
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Jonathan Kaplan (SA) Television Match Official: Shaun Veldsman (SA)
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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