The British and Irish Lions roll on to Durban for Wednesday’s match with a 26-24 win over the Cheetahs under their belts.
The tourists put in a good display without hitting the heights of Wednesday, but failed to put the game to bed when they ought to have, and Corne Uys’ late intercept try created a nervy ending – not least when Luis Strydom’s last-gasp drop goal attempt drifted an atom wide.
The hosts gave the Lions a little more to think about than the Golden Lions had last Wednesday. They offered a little more resistance and impetus on the counter attack, punishing each ad any time the Lions were slack in protecting the ball-carrier. Heinrich Brüssow and Francois Uys got through some particularly good work.
But the huge scrum picked by the Lions – the heaviest eight ever to sport the red jersey – did its job. It took the Cheetahs pack – not small themselves – five scrums to even get clean ball. Of the first four, two resulted in penalties to the Lions, one resulted in a dubious free-kick, the fourth had to be reset twice as the Cheetahs front row creaked under the strain.
That should have been enough to create a handsome win, but unfortunately referee Wayne Barnes gave the Cheetahs’ scrum far too much change in the tight and the loose, rendering the Lions’ superiority virtually null and void.
So the Lions had to find another way, but struggled for long periods. Without the set piece platform or the ability to keep the rucks closed there was no chance to get any proper rhythm going. Patience wore thin, penalties were conceded, ball was lost where it ought not to have been. Some of the decision-making was appalling later on in the game.
So Ian McGeechan might not be so happy, but given that his team was up against stronger opposition and the rule of the referee, he might also point to the fact that his side stuck well to its task, kept its shape and did not throw the game away.
It could not have begun better for the tourists though. They racked up a 20-0 lead with James Hook (Wearing His Adidas Predator Powerswerve Rugby boots) landing a penalty and Stephen Ferris and Keith Earls both running in for soft tries. Ferris took the ball off the back of a ruck as it popped out on the Cheetahs’ side with Tewis de Bruyn’s eyes elsewhere.
Earls’ try was a beauty, a training ground move with James Hook chipping and Earls running on. Simple and devastating.
Hook landed his second penalty after 20 minutes, but then the wheels began to come off, some of them unscrewed by referee Barnes.
First, Stephen Ferris was yellow-carded for killing the ball, an incredibly harsh decision on the Cheetahs’ first attack. While Ferris was off – and it was a measure of how well he played when on the park – the Cheetahs notched two tries: the first finished off by Danwel Demas after some heavy pressure in the Lions’ right-hand corner, the second when Wian du Preez received turnover ball and bulldozed Lee Byrne. Both tries were converted, making it 20-14 to the Lions
Demas should have scored another, but inexplicably kicked ahead when he ought to have backed himself to get to the corner. Instead, James Hook rounded off the first-half scoring with a penalty awarded for a scrum collapse.
Andy Sheridan destroyed his opposite man Kobus Calldo for the first five minutes of the second half, and it was little surprise when Calldo was brought off. WP Nel, the replacement, was equally ineffective and was not backed by flanker Francois Uys’ penchant for breaking off the back of the scrum early.
Yet the penalties that should have come from there didn’t. Instead, the Cheetahs spoiled and screwed and popped and lay at every ruck and breakdown, bringing the game down to a undistinguished dogfight. The two fly-halves exchanged penalties, Hook landed a further one to make it 17-26, then Potgieter and Strydom both missed shots that would have made things far more uncomfortable for the tourists.
As the clock ticked down and the Lions looked to put it to bed, the shape fell away along with the patience. Breaking runners found no support on the shoulder, outside men stood too flat. Shane Williams (Wearing his Puma V1-08 Rugby boots) tried a trademark jink and step, but the defence was able to push up on the flat-standing backs and Corne Uys plucked the offload and raced away for a try under the posts to make it 26-24.
With the pressure on, the Lions displayed a worrying lack of nerve. Byrne dropped a high ball he would normally have taken in his sleep, the pack let ball go loose at a ruck, bringing them back into their own half. Strydom launched a drop goal attempt that had all the legs but just would not be willed inside the right-hand post by the crowd.
At the end, the Cheetahs’ desperation to secure the ball in the danger zone again cost them a penalty which Hook booted gleefully to touch. Three down – but plenty to ponder.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Demas, Du Preez, Uys
Cons: Potgieter 2, Strydom
For the British and Irish Lions:
Tries: Ferris, Earls
Cons: Hook 2
Pens: Hook 4
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Corne Uys, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Jaques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Tewis De Bruyn, 8 Hendro Scholtz (captain), 7 Francois Uys, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 David De Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian Du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 WP Nel, 18 Frans Viljoen, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Gerrie Odendaal, 21 Louis Strydom, 22 Fabian Juries.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Shane Willians, 10 James Hook, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Joe Worsley, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Donncha O’Callaghan, 4 Paul O’Connell, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Andy Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Adam Jones, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Nathan Hines, 20 Mike Blair, 21 Ronan O’Gara, 22 Gordon D’Arcy.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence, Craig Joubert
TMO: Johann Meuwesen