Committed Lions save face

2009-07-06 00:00

YOU can’t mess with Test rugby – and the Springboks found that to their cost at Ellis Park on Saturday as the British Lions finished their tour with a bang to win the third and final Test 28-9.

The Springboks took a tight, uncompromising series 2-1 and, in the end, it was Morne Steyn’s 55-metre penalty in injury time of the second Test at Loftus which was the difference between the two sides.

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers remodelled his team for the third Test and it showed out in the middle as his players lacked the structure, the intensity and momentum to match a committed, brave Lions outfit.

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers defended overhauling his team.

“I’m grateful we won the series and that was our aim. The Lions were brilliant in this Test and never let us settle

The Bok coach said that the Test had shown the difference between international and Super 14 rugby.

“If we didn’t try (the fringe players) we would never know who could step up. Now we have a better idea ahead of the Tri-Nations.”

Perhaps the changes in personnel, the talk of a dead rubber and the decision to protest Bakkies Botha’s suspension by wearing white armbands resulted in the Springboks taking their eyes off the ball.

The British Lions certainly did not, and their focused approach, committed defence and their adept handling saw them take their scoring chances impressively to outscore the Boks by three tries without reply.

The statistics of the game indicate a tight, close contest but the Springboks were seldom able to attack on the front-foot and ran headlong into tight defence when they did.

Captain John Smit refused to hide behind the many changes in explaining the defeat.

“The Lions certainly had the greater intensity and better rhythm. It was a well deserved victory. They knocked us off the ball at the ruck and they really were all over us in every area.”

Lions captain Paul O’Connell, described the win as “immensely satisfying.”

“It was a really big performance for the (Lions) jersey. The week was the toughest, most pressured of my career. A whitewash would have made it a very long summer back home but we dug deep and gave our supporters a moment to remember.”

Coach Ian McGeechan agreed:

“This time we had the marginal decisions which went against us in the first two Tests. But it was a very intense, accurate performance.

“We will remember this win for the next four years (when the Lions tour again) but the Boks won the series and congratulations to them.

“It is tough to take. We could have won this series, it was so close, but that is sport.”

The Lions were quickly away in the first half with two tries by Shane Williams inside eight minutes for a 15-6 half-time lead and this time they retained their control until the final whistle. The first Williams try was aided by a piece of obstruction by lock Simon Shaw but the second was fashioned by a chip kick and skilful flick-on by centre Riki Flutey after the Boks lost possession on attack.

But the Test was ultimately decided 15 minutes into the second half when the Boks, hard on attack, with an overlap and charging for the line, saw Lions wing Ugo Monye intercept and run 80 metres to score.

It might well have been a 14-point swing as the Lions leapt out to a 22-6 and the Boks, disjointed and frequently turning over possession, never seriously threatened the lead.

Morne Steyn reduced the lead to 22-9 with his third penalty but two flashes of ill-discipline, the first by Heinrich Brussow, who had otherwise been the Boks’ most effective player, and the second by replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis presented Lions flyhalf Stephen Jones with two easy penalties (28-9) to complete the scoring.

The Boks thought they had scored four minutes from time when wing Odwa Ndungane squeezed in at the corner. Television referee Bryce Lawrence ruled that he had touched the line and that was as close as the Boks came to scoring a try.

The Lions had heroes across the pitch but the busy Williams, who was named man-of-the-match, the midfield of Flutey and Tommy Bowe, who were devastating on defence, number eight Jamie Heaslip, flank Martyn Williams, O’Connell and Phil Vickery, who this time stood up strongly to Tendai Mtawarira, all played prominent roles in the win.

The senior Springboks, Smit , Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, battled manfully to lift the team but the Boks were pummelled at forward and the backs, often running from too deep, off their static forwards and against well-marshalled defences , battled to make any headway .

Wynand Olivier started well with a couple of half-breaks and replacement Frans Steyn brought some late urgency to a patchy Bok performance. But, as expected, after all the changes, the Boks lacked cohesion and direction behind the scrum and the power and physicality of a Bakkies Botha up front.

SCORERS

Lions – tries by Shane Williams 92) and Ugo Monye. Conversions (2) Stephen Jones. Penalties (3) Stephen Jones.

Springboks – penalties (3) Morne Steyn.

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