The disappointment within the Lions camp after their 13-13 draw with the Emerging Springboks on Tuesday night was echoed by the British and Irish press on Wednesday morning.
The Lions looked set to bounce back from Saturday’s first Test defeat with a win in Cape Town until a last-minute converted try denied them their seventh victory of the tour.
Here’s what a selection of the media had to say about the result itself and the manner of the performance at Newlands…
Rob Kitson in the Guardian
Until the final kick of the game the midweek Lions had restored at least a measure of momentum to a faltering tour in a storm-lashed Cape Town today. They reckoned without Willem de Waal’s fine touchline conversion in injury-time which earned a persevering Emerging Springboks side a draw and left the touring side wondering if their luck is ebbing away. At least the class of 2009 will return home as the first Lions side since 1989 to be unbeaten against provincial opposition, a strictly relative achievement but something to cling to nonetheless.
In many ways this was a game the Lions could have done without, given the precarious state of the series. In desperately tricky conditions not many individuals advanced their weekend Test prospects. Keith Earls at full-back had his best game of the tour and scored the Lions’ solitary try, while Tim Payne did not let anyone down on his Lions debut in the front row. The sight of James Hook replacing the captain Ronan O’Gara with just 45 minutes gone raised a few eyebrows but the selectorial jury remains out in both cases. The same is true on the wings where neither Luke Fitzgerald nor Shane Williams had much chance to heap pressure on the incumbent Ugo Monye ahead of tomorrow’s team announcement.
It would have been a minor miracle if anyone had dazzled in conditions which tested everyone’s resolve. The Submerging Boks would have been a more appropriate name given the weather which bore scant resemblance to the cloudless blue skies in Pretoria awaiting the Lions this weekend.
Peter Jackson in the Daily Mail
The Lions staggered through a test of endurance in a Cape tempest last night only to be forced into their first overseas draw for 35 years.
A night when the substitutes sat huddled in blankets ended with substitute fly-half Willem de Waal defying the last of the raging squalls to convert a try six seconds from time with the last kick of the match.
It left the Lions no option but to accept a repeat of one of the most famous results of all time, the 13-13 draw during the final Test in Johannesburg which completed their unbeaten tour in 1974.
This one, far from making history, will have marked the end of the road for those who head coach Ian McGeechan deems surplus to requirements for Saturday’s second Test in Pretoria, and the final one seven days later in Johannesburg.
Chris Hewett in the Independent
It would have been a delicious irony: Phil Vickery, the sad and sorry fall guy in last week’s Test defeat by South Africa in Durban, puts his scrummaging nightmare behind him by winning the set-piece penalty that secures the Lions a valuable, hard-fought victory over the Emerging Springboks in front of a 40,000-strong audience in Cape Town. The grand old West Country prop did his bit, forcing Pat Cilliers into the sodden Newlands turf a minute into stoppage time and earning James Hook an easy three-pointer that took the tourists to the very brink of success. And then…
With the last attack of the match, the second-string Boks launched a withering attack off a line-out in search of the seven points that would save them. Simon Shaw pulled off the tackle of the match to stop Franco van der Merwe dead in his tracks in front of the posts, but the ball was recycled and moved swiftly right, where the spectacularly rapid Danwel Demas dived over in the right corner. Willem de Waal, a thorn in the Lions’ flesh when they played Western Province at this same venue 11 days ago, was faced with the most difficult of last-kick conversions, a metre in from touch with the wind and rain gusting all about him. Not for a single split-second did he look like missing.
The Lions could not claim to be hard done by. In desperate conditions – a gale blowing off the Atlantic, bringing a series of torrential squalls with it – they started well enough, opening up a 10-point lead in the first quarter through a short-range penalty from Ronan O’Gara and a lovely quickstepper’s try from Keith Earls, the young Irish full-back. But their opponents were always in the game, their powerful back-row unit repeatedly asking the tourists questions in the loose, and as the contest wore on, the Lions found themselves being worn down.
Mike Greenaway in the Cape Times
A patchwork Emerging Springboks team that had the benefit of just two training sessions together struck a psychological blow for their senior brothers ahead of the second Test in Pretoria when they came back from the dead to snatch a 13-13 draw against the Lions at Newlands last night.
The Lions had been in control for most of the game but seemed powerless to hold on when the South Africans fought back.
It was miserable end to the midweek games on this tour on the most miserable of nights.
If any of the British and Irish visitors to Newlands last night had ever wondered why this part of the world has been known for centuries as the Cape of Storms, they wondered no more as they shivered in the stands, buffeted this way and that and periodically drenched in sweeping curtains of rain.
During the afternoon, some flights laden with Lions supporters battled for hours to land, so furious was the tempest. Some 39 000 tickets were pre-sold but almost a quarter of that number opted to light their log fire at home with their match ticket.
And that was the lot of the spectators, so imagine what it was like playing rugby in that!?
The conditions were not that much better for the WP game but that is winter in the Cape and it all adds to the drama of a Lions tour – a muddy paddock in Cape Town, a field parched yellow by the sun in Rustenburg.
All in all, it was a far from ideal scenario for the players in the Lions team that were trying to force a late rethink on the Test team, while for the young South Africans, most of whom were from the highveld, it was even more difficult to showcase their skills.
The Lions indeed were much better at handling the wet ball and were not afraid to use the width of the field but mostly they kept the ball in close, and used the pick-and-go to good affect.
Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times
In a dramatic finale, replacement out-half Willem de Waal landed a thumping touchline conversion to deny the Lions a morale-boosting win prior to Saturday’s second Test. The home team celebrated as if they had won, the Lions trooped off as if they had lost and the home fans went into a wildly wet and windy night happy they’d come along.
The collective disappointment was perhaps as relevant as any individual aspects, and of the latter there were certainly a few negatives.
Shane Williams has been given every chance on this tour to find his missing form, and while strong under the high ball, he was again out of sorts and highly culpable for the try eight seconds before the end which made de Waal’s heroics possible.
The conditions probably were tougher on the Emerging Springboks than their more experienced visitors, although it limited the case of inclusion which prospective Test candidates could make.
Nonetheless, they adapted their tactics to give the Lions’ back three a fearful aerial bombardment which they withstood manfully, and if there is a promotion it ought well be Luke Fitzgerald, who again looked sharp off limited rations in drawing the short straw once more.
David Hands in The Times
The Lions, storm-tossed and wind-blown, completed the provincial games of their tour unbeaten at Newlands last night, but this will feel like a defeat.
Coming on top of the loss last Saturday to South Africa in the first international, the final kick of the game earned the Emerging Springboks a draw that they thoroughly deserved.
It fell, aptly enough, to the local man, Willem de Waal. The fly half knows all the troughs and eddies of his home ground and he guided the conversion of Danwel Demas’s try from the right-hand touchline through the rain and through the posts. He had been on the field no more than 27 minutes and Demas no more than seven, but their combination snatched the game from the Lions.
They could not complain. From looking the dominant side in the first quarter, capable of lifting the spirits of the whole party before the second international in Pretoria on Saturday, they fell away dramatically. Admittedly the conditions were difficult — a slippery surface and a ball difficult to handle — but nothing worse than you might see in Thomond Park, Arms Park, Adams Park or any other park in Britain or Ireland that you care to mention.
Tony Roche in The Sun
The Lions were denied the victory they desperately needed going into Saturday’s Second Test by a last-gasp conversion.
With just seconds left, and leading 13-6, the tourists were floored by Danwel Demas’ try for the young Springboks. That still left replacement fly-half Willem de Waal with an awkward kick from the touchline – but his left foot arrowed it home and the near 40,000 Newlands crowd rose in salute.
The draw means, for the second consecutive tour, the midweek team has remained unbeaten. But they did that in New Zealand four years ago only to be whitewashed 3-0 by the All Blacks.
McGeechan’s men go to Pretoria this weekend 1-0 down and this was a game where a number of players had their last chance to stake a claim.
Ireland wing Luke Fitzgerald put enormous pressure on England’s Ugo Monye with a terrific all-round display.
And James Hook, carried out of last week’s roughhouse in Port Elizabeth after a bang on the head, came off the bench four minutes into the second half and looked sharp.
But for the likes of Shane Williams, Gordon D’Arcy and the front row of John Hayes, Ross Ford and Tim Payne, Test selection for this weekend now seems remote.
The British & Irish Lions were denied victory in horrendous conditions at Newlands following a dramatic injury-time finale as the Emerging Springboks grabbed a 13-13 draw. It was no more than the Boks’ second string deserved, after engaging in a full-blooded tussle.
There were a few interesting selection pointers for head coach Ian McGeechan ahead of Saturday’s second Test appointment with the world champion Springboks in Pretoria.
Wing Luke Fitzgerald shone in most areas, while No8 Andy Powell displayed a healthy appetite for battle and substitute James Hook – on for O’Gara just after half-time – made some assured touches, including slotting a late penalty.
The Lions, though, experienced a testing finale. They were unable to put daylight between themselves and well-organised opponents – and they ultimately paid the price.
It was not the result they would have wanted just four days before facing a Test series salvage mission against South Africa.