The final midweek game of the Lions tour ended in a damp and dull 13-13 draw – but a shining light peered through the hurricane that was Newlands Stadium, in the shape of some top drawer performances from several squad members.
The Emerging Springboks, coached by Springbok Assistant Coach Dick Muir have been subjected to a battering by the first team for the past 2 weeks, but in the first half of their moment in the limelight against the Lions they were unconvincing and pedestrian at the breakdown. Poor kicking from fly-half Earl Rose, and some dubious breakdown work gave captain Ronan O’Gara the opportunity to put the Lions ahead with the boot.
The blustery and greasy conditions didn’t help the kickers all night, with both Rose and O’Gara missing relatively easy kicks.
O’Gara’s tactical kicking was, however, a cut above his Springbok equivalent, and helped keep the Lions on the front foot. However, after 16 minutes, the scrum came back to haunt the Lions once again. New Lions John Hayes and Tim Payne were subjected to intense pressure in the first few scrums, resulting in a couple of penalties – however, as the game wore on the scrum shored up, and the Lions exerted their dominance.
This dominance was underlined by a period of concerted pressure on the Emerging Springboks line, with the impressive Keith Earls eventually picking a fantastic line to score his second try of the tour, and the first of the night.
The first half also witnessed a battle between the Lions wingers to push their cause for a test spot. Shane Williams had his dancing shoes on, and was a constant threat, but was perhaps outshone by Luke Fitzgerald, who’s blistering break led to Earls’ try.
The second half, as with previous tour game led to a swing in the game. The Emerging Springboks finally found their kicking game, and were subjecting the Lions defence to intense pressure. A penalty by the Lions to extend the score to 13-3 gave a glimmer of hope, but a early penalty from Rose brought the Boks back to within touching distance at 13-6.
However, it wasn’t until the final minute that the Boks made their breakthrough. Constant pressure in the Lions 22 led to a try in the corner by winger Danwel Demas, and with the clock already into the red, it was down to a brilliant touchline kick by Willem de Waal to clinch the 13-13 draw.
Positives for the Lions? Well, the livewire Luke Fitzgerald was impressive with several probing runs, and resolute defence. His substitution with 15 minutes to go suggests he could have done enough. Keith Earls has come under intense pressure during this tour, however, in terrible conditions, he was imperious at full back, and took his try very well. Martyn Williams also showed his true colours with a great game in the breakdown, and Ross Ford silenced some critics with a great game in the loose and set piece.
Can any of these players step up and challenge for a place on Saturday? As always, let us know your thoughts.