Steyn heroics seal series for Springboks
June 27, 2009
Bryan Habana scored the Springboks' second try in Pretoria
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South Africa sealed the series against the British & Irish Lions with a 28-25 win in a classic Test match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Bulls fly-half Morne Steyn landed a penalty as the clock ticked over the 80 minute mark to crush the hopes of the tourists and their army of travelling fans.
Steyn's kick followed a game of fantastic drama and fierce combat, in which the Lions had seized a 16-8 half-time lead thanks to a try from the immaculate Rob Kearney. The Springboks scored tries of their own through JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie, but were kept honest by a majestic performance with the boot from Welsh fly-half Stephen Jones.
The Lions suffered with injuries in the closing stages, with both props and centres all limping from the field, but the Springbok fightback was something to behold. Adam Jones made a fine impact at the scrum after being called in in place of Phil Vickery, while veteran lock Simon Shaw was a giant for the duration.
Springbok celebrations may be tempered following the game by a citing for flanker Schalk Burger, recalled to win his 50th cap, who was sin-binned in the opening minute for making contact with the eyes of debutant Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald.
The Springbok eight made a powerful start to the game with their much-vaunted rolling maul, winning a penalty that was swiftly reversed thanks to Burger's moment of madness. The Lions showed their intent by going to the corner, securing a further penalty when the Springboks strayed offside.
Jones dispatched the kick as the Lions fans roared their approval. With the talismanic Burger in the bin, the Lions went all out to take advantage.
With temperatures rising at pitch level, the Lions struck the next blow in what was already a pulsating contest. From quick ball Jones, growing in stature after a mixed performance in Durban, found a miraculous offload out of the back of his hand to put Kearney clear. The Irish fullback's line was perfectly judged and he fixed Frans Steyn before beating Pietersen's cover tackle to scramble over in the corner.
Burger's sin-bin provided a ten-point swing for the tourists, whose opening ten minutes was imbued with the hope and vigour of their closing efforts in Durban.
The Springboks, as with any world class side, struck back immediately. Their class at the lineout was exploited to the full when blindside Juan Smith plucked the ball from the air, effortlessly finding Fourie du Preez. The scrum-half, who had looked rattled during the Lions' opening assault, fired an inch-perfect pass to Pietersen who scythed through the Lions' line to score untouched.
In contrast to his assured performance with the boot last weekend, Ruan Pienaar missed the conversion from under the posts to leave the Lions with a 10-5 lead.
Jones added a penalty before a week's worth of speculation was focused at the opening pair of scrums. The Lions were solid in the first exchange before Jones won the plaudits of his team-mates by winning a penalty from Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira in the shadow of his own posts - a moment to savour for the Welshman and also for the watching Vickery.
More enterprising play from the Lions set up promising position deep in Springbok territory, Fitzgerald showing excellent pace to break clear down his wing. With good patience the Lions set up camp on the Springbok line, Shaw and O'Connell carrying well before the ball was shipped back for Jones to land a nerveless, if slightly wobbly, drop goal.
The Lions' effort had produced a healthy lead, although the looming presence of the altitude would have been forefront as they looked to protect it heading in to the break. They were unable to keep the Boks form scoring however, with the siege-gun boot of Steyn securing a penalty from inside his own half to take the score to 16-8 at the break.
After the pace and frenzy of the opening exchanges, the second-half rolled in to life at a more cagey tempo. The opening ten minutes of the half were hugely damaging for the tourists, as they first lost Gethin Jenkins to a head injury after a collision with Habana and O'Driscoll and then his front-row partner Jones to an injury sustained in one of his many incursions at a ruck.
It could have been worse for McGeechan's men, but Pienaar's radar was terminally damaged. The Sharks man spurned two regulation shots at goal to leave the tourists' lead intact despite the home side having ramped up their possession stats.
Pienaar's profligacy led to an appearance for hometown favourite Steyn - and the metronomic pivot's first action was to convert a superb try from Habana.
With the scrums uncontested the Springboks shipped the ball clear after Rees had sent in a skewed throw, replacement centre Jaque Fourie holding the Lions defence and allowing du Preez to unleash the prowling Habana. His searing pace took him clear of the cover, and all that was left for the Lions to do was watch Steyn bisect the posts.
The Lions continued to be ravaged by injury, O'Driscoll and Roberts the next two players to hobble to the touchline.
Fourie, so conspicuous in the second South African try, was next to cross. Following a surge from Spies, Pietersen found Brussow in acres of space. The openside fixed his man before unleashing Fourie, who bounded through Ronan O'Gara and crashed over in the corner. All eyes were on the TMO, who awarded the try after an agonising wait for the men in red.
Referee Berdos, balanced all game, handed the Lions a chance to salvage the series when he called Andries Bekker back for a high tackle on Jones, the Welsh fly-half placing the ball on the tee and continuing his superb match by sending his kick just inside the far upright.
Time, as was shown last weekend, is not a luxury afforded at Test match level. The Springboks looked to have conceded the draw after Steyn saw a drop goal roll harmlessly in to the arms of Kearney, only for one last blow of the referee's whistle to hand the Bulls man his shot at a place in history. O'Gara, chasing his own kick, knocked du Preez out of the air and conceded a penalty 50 metres out. Steyn, with a swagger belying his inexperience, sent the kick straight and true to break the hearts of the Lions.
South Africa: Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Adi Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, John Smit (captain), Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Deon Carstens, Andries Bekker, Danie Rossouw, Heinrich Brüssow, Jaque Fourie, Morné Steyn
British & Irish Lions: Rob Kearney (Leinster & Ireland), Tommy Bowe (Ospreys & Ireland), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster & Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues & Wales), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster & Ireland), Stephen Jones (Scarlets & Wales), Mike Phillips (Ospreys & Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster & Ireland), David Wallace (Munster & Ireland), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers & England), Paul O'Connell (Munster & Ireland, captain), Simon Shaw (London Wasps & England), Adam Jones (Ospreys & Wales), Matthew Rees (Scarlets & Wales), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues & Wales)
Replacements: Ross Ford (Edinburgh & Scotland), Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks & England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys & Wales), Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues & Wales), Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers & England), Ronan O'Gara (Munster & Ireland), Shane Williams (Ospreys & Wales)
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assistant referees: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.