Replacement James Hook goaled a penalty in the 74th minute to give the Lions a scrappy 26-23 win over WP.
The rain abated from kickoff to climax, but the heavy showers around lunchtime certainly left their mark on the Newlands turf. The greasy ball was even harder to field given the turbulent wind, as WP fullback Joe Pietersen indicated on more than one occasion.
The Lions employed the high-ball tactic to good effect as Pietersen and company dropped several bombs to hand the visitors both territory and possession. The first quarter was characterised by garryowens, probes for touch and low-trajectory grubbers, and for the most part it was the Lions who executed these kicks better.
Willem de Waal kicked two penalties and a drop goal in the first half while Pietersen sunk a drop goal of his own, but unfortunately for the home fans, WP just never looked like scoring a try. The Newlands’ faithful screamed whenever the hosts drew close, but as the move broke down a more prominent cry of ‘Lions, Lions’ could be heard from the travelling contingent.
Wales No 8 Andy Powell stood out for the tourists, beating the first tackler with his dangerous combo of quick feet and powerful upper-body strength. It was a Powell break that sparked the first try as the Lions’ backs and forwards combined to expose some poor WP defence.
Powell offloaded to Martyn Williams who in turn popped a smart pass to Stephen Jones. Rob Kearney took it wide, throwing a great floating pass in spite of conditions. Tommy Bowe received the ball on WP’s 22, spun out of one tackle, stepped inside another and bust through two more to dot down.
Bowe’s direct running set up the visitors’ second try in the 35th minute, and again credit must go to the shocking WP defence. Bowe slid through the first line effortlessly and was eventually hauled in by Tonderai Chavhanga after repelling the hapless Pietersen. He also found the time to deliver a basketball-pass to fellow winger Ugo Monye, who showed great anticipation and pace to finish.
De Waal goaled a penalty right on half-time to reduce the deficit to 18-12, but WP were struggling to stay in the match.
The scrums were a mess with both teams falling foul to a slippery pitch while the Lions’ lineout were solid on their own ball and competitive on WP’s. The breakdowns were also a mess with no team obtaining a clear advantage.
De Waal’s penalty attempt just after the break dropped under the bar, but several moments later he was on target to further narrow the gap. Province began to believe, and this was exemplified by lock Anton van Zyl’s scuffle with opposite number Donncha O’Callaghan.WP were outclassed but were determined to go down fighting.
But there was never enough accuracy in their fight for it to amount to any real threat. They bounced off too many first-time tackles and dropped too many passes. There were several turnovers that the Cape crowd cheered, but these were very minor and insignificant victories.
The Lions piled on the pressure and eventually the WP resistance crumbled again in the 57th minute. They built through the phases never shifting out from the first-receiver, and eventually Williams flopped over in the corner.
Stephen Jones’s goal-kicking radar was off in this fixture and he’ll surely be keen to get back up to the highveld. Newlands is notorious for its difficult goal-kicking conditions but that hardly seem to affect De Waal, who kicked an important penalty in the 61st minute to keep the hosts in the game at 23-18.
Province drew level three minutes later when a sustained period of pressure paid dividends. They looked to have butchered an opportunity but remained patient, and when the overlap was created De Waal threw a good overhead pass to Pietersen who showcased his finishing ability. De Waal, couldn’t convert from the touchline, but at 23-23 with 16 minutes remaining, the stage was set for a dramatic finish.
Hook didn’t fare any better than Jones with his first penalty attempt, and so the Lions failed to take the lead. Brimming with confidence, the hosts fought their way into Lions territory but were undone by a handling error again. This time it was De Waal who dropped the ball cold.
Hook goaled a difficult penalty from 50m out to regain the lead and from here the Lions fought to hang on. Again they were helped by WP’s errors, an attacking movement in Lions territory coming to nought due to a forward pass. On the hooter, Pietersen also grubbered the ball away to hand the visitors victory.
It was a far from polished performance from the men in red, but the bottom line is the Lions have won their fifth match in succession and gained further match preparation ahead of next Saturday’s Test in Durban.
By Jon Cardinelli, at Newlands