x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Long-range Hook preserves Lions perfect record

The Welsh replacement's penalty from 50 metres earns the British & Irish Lions a hard fought win over Western Province.

Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger will hardly be quaking in their boots after another unconvincing Saturday performance from the British & Irish Lions , but Graham Rowntree, the tourists' scrummaging guru, believes the stern examination they underwent at Newlands yesterday will stand them in good stead for Saturday's first Test. The Lions needed a late penalty from James Hook, the substitute fly-half, to seal a 26-23 victory over Western Province and continue their 100 per cent tour record but the margin and the manner of the win will have left the coaching team with plenty of food for though. "We've got stuff to work on but that's just what we needed for a Test series that starts next week," said Rowntree. "We've got a big game next week and that is a good run out for us just beforehand. It was a good hard game, a real intense game. The lads have come through it and that will do us well for next week. "We should have been more points clear, we've got to look up the accuracy of what we're doing for sure, but at the end I thought we kept some good composure there. "That's a pressure kick [by Hook] and we have big pressure players here to do that." Hook was nerveless four minutes from time, rifling over a 50-metre strike that thwarted the home side's superb fightback. The Lions looked in control at 18-9 ahead after tries from man-of-the-match Tommy Bowe and his fellow wing Ugo Monye. But Western Province kept plugging away as full-back Joe Pietersen's try set up a tense finish. Pietersen had earlier dropped a goal, as did fly-half Willem de Waal, who also kicked four penalties, yet the Lions did just enough to make it five wins from five games. Flanker Martyn Williams also added a try, while two Stephen Jones penalties and a conversion also contributed towards the victory. The Lions had expected Western Province to be their toughest opponents so far, and so it proved. The highlights were another sparkling display by the irrepressible Bowe, while Monye surely did enough to keep world player of the year Shane Williams out of first Test contention. Martyn Williams and No 8 Andy Powell also had their moments, but an ineffective display by prop Andrew Sheridan has probably seen him lose ground in the loose-head battle with Gethin Jenkins. The Lions had to contend with comfortably the worst weather conditions of their 10-match trip, with a blustery wind and heavy showers blowing in from Table Mountain. And they were also watched by their biggest crowd on tour - just over 34,000, that included an escalating contingent of travelling fans. A lively opening saw Western Province move 3-0 ahead after four minutes when De Waal booted a penalty from just inside the Lions' half. But the visitors quickly drew level when Jones found his range 40 metres out as the game continued at a frantic pace. Territorially, the Lions enjoyed a considerable advantage, and they looked to have taken the sting out of opponents who threatened little in attack. As with the Sharks in Durban on Wednesday night, the Lions were up against dogged opponents, and a well-struck De Waal drop-goal tied it up at 6-6. Western Province enjoyed their best spell of the game midway through the second quarter, and they regained the lead through a drop-goal by Pietersen. But the Lions produced an immediate riposte, scoring the game's opening try after 28 minutes. Crisp passing saw full-back Rob Kearney find his fellow Ireland Grand Slam-winner Bowe out wide and he ducked inside one tackle then finished in style, claiming hs fourth try of the tour and edging the Lions into an 11-9 lead. But Bowe was not finished, and he smashed through three tackles on a weaving run before floating a delightful pass to Monye, whose finish proved exemplary. Jones added the extras while De Waal kicked a penalty either side of half-time to cut the deficit to just three points. The tourists stepped up a gear when required and a wave of attacks ended with a concerted forward rumble and a try for Williams. The Lions were 3-0 ahead on tries, knowing that one more score would probably finish off the home side, but a De Waal penalty cut the gap to 23-18. Western Province then drew level through a high-class try by Pietersen, who rounded off a spell off powerful work from the pack. De Waal missed the touchline conversion, but the score set up a gripping closing 15 minutes, with the Lions hauled back to 23-23. But Hook spared their blushes with a 50-metre penalty late on. Meanwhile, Hook's Wales teammate, Ryan Jones - a late-call up to the tour - has been sent straight back home after the Lions medical staff requested the back-row forward undergoes further examination by a neurosurgeon after suffering what the Lions termed "two significant knocks" to the head while playing for Wales on their recent North America tour. * With agencies