Crowds building as Test series approaches

A crowd at last! Everyone was delighted to see more than 30,000 Western Province fans turn out at Newlands to see the home side go within a whisker of notching their first win over the British & Irish Lions since 1938. [more]

Crowds building as Test series approaches

A crowd at last! Everyone was delighted to see more than 30,000 Western Province fans turn out at Newlands to see the home side go within a whisker of notching their first win over the British & Irish Lions since 1938.

The small crowds to date on tour have baffled the Lions and got many of the locals hot under the collar. They blame the high ticket prices for the lack of numbers, while others point to the surfeit of televised rugby.

Not that there are likely to be any spare places at the Absa Stadium in Durban for next week’s opening Test match against the Springboks. That is destined to be a 52,000 sell out – the first of the tour.

Another fitting reason to be happy about the 34,176 gate at Newlands was that the historic venue staged the very first Lions game in South Africa. That was way back in 1891, with the Lions beating Cape Town Clubs 15-1.

For the record, here are the teams and scorers from that day. It’s good to know that some rugby traditions live on.

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Cape Town: B Duff; J Versfeld, H Versfeld, J Klopper, W van Breda; M Louw, J Arnot; G Beyers, C Truter, A Chiappini, W Reid, C Heatlie, A Beswick, J Krige, M Versfeld
Scorer: Try: H Versfeld

British Lions: W Mitchell; P Clauss, R Aston, W MacLagan [capt], A Rotherham; W Wotherspoon, W Bromet; J Gould, J Hammond, P Hancock, R MacMillan, C Simpson, R Thompson, W Thorman, T Whittaker
Scorers: Tries: P Clauss 2 , R Aston 2; Cons: W Wotherspoon 2; Pens: W Wotherspoon 2; DG: R Aston

Referee: Herbert Castens (South Africa)

Graham Rowntree has been described as “the most evil man on tour” by England prop Phil Vickery. The two men know each other very well have played for their country together and been on opposing club sides many times.

So what got Vickery so worked up to give his damning verdict? It all came down to the way assistant forwards coach Rowntree approached scrum practice the other day.

“He got us to do some live scrummaging, which is hard enough, but then he said he wasn’t happy with the way it was going because we were collapsing,” explained Vickery.

“His answer to this was to say he was going to fine the props 300 Rand each for every collapsed scrum. Three collapses later we got the message – he is really evil!”

All the Lions are sad to see Stephen Ferris and Leigh Halfpenny leaving the tour through injuries, although the loss of the 20-year-old rookie Halfpenny might be a small blessing in disguise.

Room mate Lee Mears claimed he had never heard something snore and talk in his sleep as much as the Cardiff Blues youngster. Well, he has had a lot to shout about this season so why not carry it on in your sleep!

Top South African referee Jonathan Kaplan made a bit of history in Durban the other night when he refereed the British & Irish Lions on a fourth successive tour.

He first met up with the tourists back in 1997 when he controlled the 52-30 victory for Martin Johnson’s side over the Free State. Four years later he was in charge of the second Test defeat by the Wallabies and in 2005 he refereed the third Test defeat in Auckland against the All Blacks.

He was the familiar face back out in the middle at the Absa Stadium in Durban as the Lions beat the Sharks 39-3 and he will be back as the No 2 touch judge in Cape Town on 23 June when the Lions meet the Emerging Springboks.

While we’re talking about referees, Wales’ leading official Nigel Owens will be in charge of the game in Port Elizabeth against the Southern Kings on Tuesday night. He will certainly be the first Welsh speaking referee to control a Lions match, but he won’t be the first Welshman.

That is, of course, if you consider Dr John Griffin to have been Welsh. Born in Southampton in 1859, he studied medicine at Edinburgh University and was drafted into the Welsh team to play Scotland when they arrived in the Scottish capital one player short.

The fact Griffin, who was playing for the University 3rd XV at the time, was English made him, in effect, the ‘least Scottish’ player available. It was to be his one and only appearance for Wales and in international rugby.

In 1890 he travelled to South Africa and eventually set up practice in Port Elizabeth. He got involved with the Eastern Province Union and was given the task of refereeing the first Test match played by the both the Springboks and the Lions.

A mere 118 years on, another Welshman will be in the middle again refereeing the Lions.

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