Planet Rugby

The British & Irish Lions


Lions survive PE assault

16th June 2009 15:54


Flutey sandwich

Tough going: Riki Flutey struggles to find a way through

The British and Irish Lions go into the first Test in Durban on Saturday with a clean slate as far as wins go, after beating the Southern Kings 20-8 in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.

Whether they go into the match with such a wonderful clean bill of health is another matter, after a number of key back-up personnel left the field injured during the match; most notably Euan Murray.

The tourists were given as physical an examination as they could have conceived - not all of it legal - but weathered the storm well and made their superior abilities at using the ball count. The intelligence, planning and execution that went into Ugo Monye's game-turning 50th-minute try - even if the finish owed more to a roulette player's luck - was what set the teams apart in the end.

Ronan O'Gara's crossfield kick for the try and his instinctive knowledge that told him Monye would be waiting exhibited the kind of intimate teamwork that the Kings never seemed to have. Had they had it, the Lions could have been dead and buried by the break.

Less satisfying to the Lions coaching staff would have been - once again - the high turnover count in the first half, coupled with the high penalty count. In previous matches, blame had been (euphemistically at least) laid at the feet of the Southern Hemiphsere officials and their breakdown-indulgent manners.

But this was Nigel Owens blowing them out of the game here when the ball was not being stolen, and with nemesis Heinrich Brüssow now preparing himself for some more breakdown brilliance in four days' time, the Lions now must take this match as a warning and start either committing more players to the rucks or getting the ball out quicker.

The second half was a huge improvement on the first, but as man of the match Mpho Mbiyoso pointed out after the game: "you can't turn up for just 40 or 60 minutes."

At some point, these Lions might leave themselves with too much to do and Mbiyoso's display at openside, which will have had Brüssow and clubs all over Europe sitting up and taking note with equal enthusiasm, was enough to inspire the thought that South Africa's task on Saturday is to storm out of the blocks as the Kings did and ensure the Lions do not weather the storm, but are left no chance of coming back irrespective of how well they finish.

The Kings might have shown how to do that as well in the first fifteen minutes. Scrum-half Francois Hougaard (twice), Mbiyoso and Jaco Engels all made breaks and inroads which should have been enough to stretch a defence to breaking point, but the speed of understanding had support driving when it should have been picking at one point, ball coming out too slow at another, knocked on at another.

Instead, the only points the Kings racked up were three from Jaco van der Westhuyzen's boot and the mental ones scored by the hits that saw Euan Murray and James Hooks invalided out of the game in the first ten minutes. Van der Westhuyzen also saw yellow for a nasty late hit on Gordon D'Arcy, not the only dodgy shot during the opening half hour, and missed two more pots at goal in the half which, in the final reckoning, would have had his side ahead at the break and might have made a big difference.

O'Gara's introduction for Hook brought an extra element of control to the game at the expense of a mite of tempo, but the gulf in class between the polished boot of the Irishman and Van der Westhuyzen's scattergun kicking was immense. Once Keith Earls - at last - had terrorised the Kings with a dazzling return run, the Kings fly-half thought twice about kicking as he had before and the Lions began to find some territory and rhythm.

O'Gara equalised from the tee after 26 minutes, then gave his side the lead early in the second half as the Kings were twice caught off their feet in quick succession.

Once Monye had touched down for his score, winning a scramble to the ball in which the downward pressure was ultimately inflicted by Monye's torso, the result seemed inevitable. The Lions pack worked feverishly at close quarters to protect the ball, with any openness to the game long since abandoned.

O'Gara hit the post with a third penalty shot but from the resultant scrum the men in red showed their power - finally they were allowed to - and bullied a penalty try out of the Kings to seal the deal.

There was time for Mbiyoso to claim a deserved try at the end, as he mopped up untidy ball from his team's scrum and bustled his way to the line, but the Lions had won the scrap by then. Will they be able to do the same on Saturday?

Man of the match: Mpho Mbiyoso's sevens skills - speed, game-reading, closing down of space - were all on show. This must be a display that makes clubs in Europe and Super 14 franchises here sit up and think.

The scorers:

For the Southern Kings:

Try: Mbiyoso

Pen: Van der Westhuyzen

For the Lions:

Tries: Monye, penalty try

Cons: O'Gara 2

Pens: O'Gara 2

Yellow cards: Van der Westhuyzen (18, Kings, dangerous tackle), Skeate (62, Kings, repeated infringement)

Southern Kings: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Wylie Human, 13 Frikkie Welsh, 12 De Wet Barry (vice captain), 11 Matthew Turner, 10 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Darron Nell, 7 Mpho Mbiyozo, 6 Solly Tyibilika, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Ross Skeate, 3 Ruan Vermeulen, 2 Derrick Kuün (captain), 1 Jaco Engels.

Replacements: 16 Delarey du Preez, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Lungelo Payi, 19 Dries van Schalkwyk, 20 Josh Fowles, 21 Bevin Fortuin, 22 Mzwandile Stick.

B&I Lions: 15 Keith Earls, 14 Ugo Monye, 13 Riki Flutey, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Joe Worsley, 6 Nathan Hines, 5 Donncha O'Callaghan (capt), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Andrew Sheridan.

Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Adam Jones, 18 Tom Croft, 19 David Wallace, 20 Harry Ellis, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Shane Williams.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)