Hook boots Lions past Western Province
June 13, 2009
James Hook landed the winning points for the Lions
© Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions scraped past an impassioned Western Province side 26-23 in Cape Town thanks to a superb late penalty from replacement James Hook.
The Lions had forged a lead thanks to tries from wingers Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye and openside Martyn Williams but the precise boot of Province fly-half Willem de Waal kept his side tight on their heels. A second-half try from Joe Pietersen drew the scores level with minutes to go before Hook stepped up and showed great composure to keep the Lions' 100% record intact.
Phil Vickery led the tourists, the third man to do so on tour, although they suffered a late injury worry when Mike Blair was ruled out with an ankle ligament problem. Winger Shane Williams provided cover on the bench as Bowe, Monye, Williams, fly-half Stephen Jones and prop Andrew Sheridan all went in search of Test-place sealing performances.
The game got underway with one of the more protracted kicking wars in recent memory, the ball pinging from 22 to 22 in often aimless fashion. The home side claimed the early spoils from the war of the boot, fly-half de Waal banging over a penalty after the Lions were guilty of offside from a kick by Bowe.
Jones, under pressure from immaculate kicking performances by Ronan O'Gara and Hook in recent matches, converted two opportunities to draw the Lions ahead - the second coming after more powerful work in the scrum from skipper Vickery.
Andy Powell, chastised after a poor game against the Cheetahs, carried well in the early stages but was let down by poor distribution from scrum-half Harry Ellis. Jones saw a long-range effort drop short of the crossbar before de Waal highlighted his importance to Province. Following a long and fractious maul de Wall slotted a wonky drop-goal to draw his side level - conjuring memories of his destructive kicking as Free State dominated the Currie Cup in recent seasons.
After showing his worth as a kicker he then put the Lions under huge pressure by firing an inch-perfect cross kick in to the arms of an onrushing Tonderai Chavhanga. Chavhanga claimed and was impeded on the floor by Ugo Monye. From the lineout the ball worked wide in to the Province backs, fullback Joe Pietersen joining in with a drop-goal of his own.
With the Lions being kicked out of the game by the accurate Province backs, it fell to the Welsh duo of Powell and Williams to spark the tourists in to life. With Powell improving as the game went on he carried hard before offloading to Williams, who set the backs on their way with a sublime link pass around the corner. Flutey fixed the defence before Rob Kearney sent an excellent delayed pass to Bowe, who had the awareness to pirouette past his marker and the strength to wrestle the ball to the ground.
Bowe's first-half performance was right out of the top drawer, his Test credentials emphasised with almost every touch of the ball. His next involvement was to shear through the Province defence off quick ball, using some interference from Joe Worsley, beating two defenders before floating a stunning pass out to Monye. The Harlequins wing went to ground early and used the slick turf at Newlands to slide over in the corner.
The Lions were not allowed to bask in their achievements however, as their breakdown worries continued to leave the home side with opportunities. After some sustained pressure at a maul, the Province forwards again tying up the Lions, Sheridan was pinged for going off his feet. The prop, involved in a tussle with Gethin Jenkins for a Test place, was conspicuous with some negative play on the floor in both halves.
De Waal made no mistake with the last kick of the first-half, and added another penalty after the resumption to draw his side to within three points of the tourists.
Luke Watson, so often a controversial figure in South African rugby, was a thorn in the side of the Lions throughout and superbly snuffed out a lengthy period of pressure from the men in red. Monye burst clear, Vickery was strong in support and Jones also carried well but Watson snaffled the ball as the Lions were again too upright in the tackle.
With the Lions' forwards not enjoying the tight exchanges, they would have been given great heart by their third try. Ellis was content to allow the big men all the time they needed to grind away at the home defence, Rees, Hines and Vickery all playing a part. As the move looked to have slowed, Williams broke clear of the maul, targeting scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenhage and powering over in the corner.
Any thoughts from the Lions that they were home and dry were tempered by the knowledge that de Waal's boot was lurking and also the fact that the tourists were unable to stem the flow of penalties conceded. Lock Anton van Zyl provided a telling burst, flummoxing a laboured Simon Shaw, to drive home the Lions' worries.
Van Zyl's charge provided ample space for the home side, with de Waal directing play superbly. His arching pass after several excellent tight phases from the forwards found Pietersen in acres of space out wide and he easily outstripped the covering Euan Murray to score.
De Waal missed with the conversion to leave the scores level, and the Lions spectacularly lost their cool. Shaw was guilty of handing a thumping to Monye when he took a foolish short lineout, the wing himself was penalised when misjudging another lineout to himself and the home crowd cranked up the decibels.
It was the Lions' scrum that rescued them from ignominy, Murray making an impact and drawing two late penalties for the Lions. The first allowed them to clear their lines, and the second provided replacement Hook with the chance to win the game. Having failed with a difficult effort moments earlier, he was dead-eyed when it mattered and hammered over a huge kick to secure the narrowest of victories.
Western Province: Joe Pietersen, Tonderai Chavhanga, Morgan Newman, Peter Grant, Gcobani Bobo, Willem de Waal, Dewald Duvenhage, Luke Watson (c), Duane Vermeulen, Pieter Louw, Anton van Zyl, Martin Muller, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: Hanyani Shimange, JD Moller, De Kock Steenkamp, Zandre Jordaan, Conrad Hoffmann, JJ Engelbrecht, Gio Aplon
British & Irish Lions: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye, Stephen Jones, Harry Ellis, Andrew Sheridan, Matthew Rees, Phil Vickery (captain), Donncha O'Callaghan, Nathan Hines, Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Andy Powell
Replacements: Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Simon Shaw, Tom Croft, Mike Blair, James Hook, Gordon D'Arcy
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: W Barnes (England), C Wessels (South Africa) Television match official: S Veldsman (South Africa)
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