Proud Lions end series on a high
July 3, 2009
Shane Williams scored two tries for the Lions
© Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions defeated South Africa 28-9 in the third Test at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, registering a fine consolation win to close out a tumultuous series at 2-1 to the Springboks.
Wales wing Shane Williams bagged a brace of first-half tries to finish his troubled tour on a high, with Ugo Monye snaffling a long-range interception for the tourists' third. Phil Vickery enjoyed another, more successful, battle with the 'Beast' Tendai Mtawrira in his final Lions Test, while his fellow veteran campaigner Martyn Williams won his first Test start and fittingly produced his best display on tour. Joe Worlsey and Riki Flutey meanwhile both made contributions on debut.
The Springboks, so hard and precise during their epic victories in the first two Tests, were disorganised by comparison and suffered with 10 changes to their ranks. Zane Kirchner performed well on debut at fullback, but their efforts lacked pace and their defence looked uncharacteristically fragile in the face of the fired-up Lions.
In a week that has been dominated by the troubling story of Schalk Burger's ban for making contact with the eyes of Luke Fitzgerald, the Lions produced an excellent performance and showed strength in the face of calls for the concept to be scrapped. Burger's place in the South Africa side was taken by the find of the series, Heinrich Brussow.
The Springboks took to the field shorn of lock Bakkies Botha, harshly banned for a challenge that left Lions prop Adam Jones with a dislocated shoulder, an issue that his team mates protested perhaps unwisely by wearing white armbands with "Justice 4" emblazoned on them.
In a furious start the tourists showed great confidence, living up to their promise of playing an open game. Referee Stuart Dickinson was conspicuous in the opening minutes as the Springboks were penalised on several occasions for infractions on the floor, Stephen Jones missing his opening shot at goal to blemish his report card early on. Fullback Rob Kearney was fluent and enterprising, his command of the high ball and one scything run putting the Lions on the front foot from deep. Jones troubled the scorers with his second effort, secured after Vickery and his front-row colleagues caused all sorts of issues for the Springboks - hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle forced up.
They handed the points back immediately, the otherwise outstanding Jamie Heaslip conceding a penalty for not releasing in the tackle. Steyn easily converted, but horribly misjudged a drop-goal attempt shortly after.
The fly-half showed good variety with a teasing chip over the Lions defence, the ball knocked on by Kearney. From the scrum the Boks poured forward, Fourie du Preez orchestrating and the returning Wynand Olivier showing excellent stepping ability to open space for his partner Jaque Fourie and wing Odwa Ndungane. Ndungane was shackled by hooker Matthew Rees and the ball was turned over.
Fourie's dart into the Lions' defence proved to be his last involvement for a time as he walked from the field with a blood injury, and while South Africa reorganised the Lions pounced. Shaw ran a subtle blocking angle on the blindside, allowing Heaslip to burst clear of the defence and find an excellent offload to Williams. The winger raced clear to score under the sticks, but Jones missed the conversion after the ball rolled from the tee, forcing an impossible drop attempt under pressure.
The tourists were nearly undone by a sublime pass from du Preez to free Ndungane, who was shackled by Worsley, but showed some fine innovation of their own moments later when Williams and Kearney swapped several perfectly judged passes to free the Welsh wing. His kick infield found only Steyn however, whose clearance was long and to touch. Williams' exuberance continued as more superb support play saw him claim his second try, latching on to a speculative offload from Flutey and scampering away to score. Flutey set up the chance with a chip over the Springbok defence from turnover ball, beating a slow-to-react Kirchner to the ball and releasing the revitalised Williams.
The tourists suffered a big blow when Shaw was sent to the sin-bin after he collided with a prone du Preez, his knees clattering the scrum-half as he chased back from a scrum. Shaw went to cool off, du Preez's game was over however.
Steyn drew a penalty back just before the break after the Lions thought that they had seen off a lengthy spell of pressure from the home side, but the tourists were facing a difficult period with 14 men.
Their efforts did not dwindle after the resumption, and for a time the Lions were on the offensive once again. They produced several gilt-edged chances that were snuffed out by aggressive defence and the limpet-like Brussow, whose low centre of gravity makes him such a dangerous opponent in the tackle area.
The Lions had done an excellent job of seeing off Shaw's sin-bin, but looked as though they would be undone following a well worked snipe by Ruan Pienaar from a lineout. The replacement scrum-half was unable to step Kearney, instead recycling and allowing Olivier to float a miss-pass to Kirchner. The fullback unselfishly tried to find Ndungane on the inside ball but was caught in an excellent cover tackle by Tommy Bowe, forcing the knock-on as Shaw returned to the field.
The Boks kept up the pace and aggression, working the phases and looking to test the Lions after showing some powerful work through the forwards. The men in green worked the ball through the hands, but Olivier's next looping pass found nothing but the outstretched arm of Monye, who flew out of the line and was not to be denied by the searing pace of Nokwe - celebrating with vigour after two weeks of reflection on his missed chances in the first Test.
Steyn added another penalty as the Boks fought to get back in to the game and any thoughts that the contest would peter out were dismissed in a fiery exchange between Phillips, Steyn and Spies following a hack through by the scrum-half, Brussow harshly penalised for his part as peacemaker. Jones gratefully converted the penalty and added another moments later when Bismarck du Plessis lost his head and crashed in to the waiting Lions from the kick-off.
The Boks tried frantically as time ran out, Spies showing his pace and power to free up space before du Plessis fired the ball wide to Ndungane who crashed over in the corner. The decision went upstairs from referee Dickinson and Bryce Lawrence took a short eternity to controversially rule the score out for a foot in touch.
The Lions poured forwards to the end, Jones scrambling the ball in to touch to put a fitting win in the column for the Lions after a rollercoaster series.
South Africa: Zane Kirchner (Bulls); Odwa Ndungane (Sharks), Jacque Fourie (Lions), Wynand Olivier (Bulls), Jongi Nokwe (Cheetahs); Morne Steyn (Bulls), Fourie du Preez (Bulls); Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), John Smit (Sharks, cpt), Johann Muller (Sharks), Victor Matfield (Bulls), Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs), Juan Smith (Cheetahs), Ryan Kankowski (Sharks).
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), Gurthro Steenkamp (Bulls), Deon Carstens (Sharks), Steven Sykes (Sharks), Pierre Spies (Bulls), Ruan Pienaar (Sharks), Francois Steyn (Sharks).
British & Irish Lions: Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland), Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England), Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland), Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England), Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales), Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales), Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland), Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England), Paul O'Connell (Munster/Ireland, captain), Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England), Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England), Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales), Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)
Replacements: Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland), John Hayes (Munster/Ireland), Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales), David Wallace (Munster/Ireland), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England), James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), Vinny Munro (New Zealand) Television match official: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September