x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pride restored for Lions

Shane Williams scores two tries as the visitors avoid a 3-0 whitewash with victory over the Springboks in Johannesburg.

The wounded British & Irish Lions were finally afforded a semblance of redemption as they grabbed the Test win they craved against the Springboks. It was a first Test victory in eight years for the men in red, and the winning margin meant the overall points tally for the series actually favoured the Lions. The bottom line, though, was a third successive series defeat. Their captain, Paul O'Connell, said the fact it was a dead rubber was meaningless for his side. "It was a very important day or us," said the Irishman. "The Lions haven't won a Test in a while now, but we felt we played very well last week, in a game we probably should have won. "It has been a tough week. Without Jamie Roberts, Brian O'Driscoll, Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, we had a lot of our top names missing. "We really had to dig deep and it was a great win for the Lions, something very important for us. "We don't lose track of the fact the Springboks still won the series. Who knows what the game would have been like if it was one-all? Full credit to them for winning the series, that was the big thing."

There was a malignant atmosphere at kick-off, a hangover from the bruising Battle of Loftus Versfeld a week earlier, when seven Lions were hospitalised following the agonising injury-time defeat. The subsequent war of words was barely less fierce. "We have taken no notice of it," the outspoken coach, Peter de Villiers, who had been branded an "utter clown" by Lions management for his defence of Schalk Burger's eye-gouging, said in an interview just before the start. The truth was, they had taken enough notice to prepare white armbands bearing the inscription "Justice 4", that each of their players wore on their sleeves. Even the support staff were wearing them, in protest at the punishment meted out to their regular No 4, Bakkies Botha. The lock forward is serving a two-week suspension for his part in the incident which led to Adam Jones, the Lions prop, dislocating his shoulder. Warren Gatland, the Lions assistant coach, did his best to defuse some of the anger on the eve of the Test, saying Botha had been harshly done to.

However, there remained little love lost between the sides. Jamie Heaslip struggled to regain the form - which made him the star of Ireland's Six Nations grand slam victory earlier this year - during the first two Test matches. Yet he was still confident enough in his ability to say, the day before the Test, that the world champions Boks were not all they are cracked up to be. "They've got a big pack and they like to think they can bully people with it but I don't think they can," he had said. He needed to back up that bold statement, and he was good to his word with an immense display at No 8. He set up the opening try for Shane Williams with a powerful run and neat off-load. Much like Heaslip, Williams has not lived up to his pre-tour billing. He is the reigning world player of the year, yet this was his first start, and he had a point to prove. He went the right way about it when he doubled his tally soon after, benefiting from a brilliant chip and chase by Riki Flutey, the New Zealand-born centre. The Lions were rampant and, even when the Boks did manage to assert some pressure, the tourists still profited. As the hosts chased the game late in the second phase, Ugo Monye stole a Wynand Olivier pass on his own 22 and broke to dot down under the posts. A malevolent series finished as it had started, with opposing players scrapping, but the victory was never in doubt as the Lions prevented a first whitewash on South African soil.

pradley@thenational.ae