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Classic Match: Lions seal 1997 series victory in South Africa

Classic Match: Lions seal 1997 series victory in South Africa

Any win in a British & Irish Lions jersey is special, but to claim victory with a last gasp drop-goal to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in South Africa is that bit sweeter.

"I took my mind away from Durban and imagined myself back on the training field in Church Village" 

Any win in a British & Irish Lions jersey is special, but to claim victory with a last gasp drop-goal to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in South Africa is that bit sweeter.

A week previously, the Lions had prevailed in the first Test 25-16 thanks to that incredible Matt Dawson dummy and Alan Tait’s crucial try.

Welsh legend Neil Jenkins knocked over five penalties in Cape Town and was set to repeat that feat in Durban in the second Test.

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THE TEAM

Jenkins started at full-back for the Lions with John Bentley coming in for Ieuan Evans on the wing while try-scorer from the first Test Tait remained on the opposite wing.

Jeremy Guscott and Scott Gibbs formed the centre partnership while Matt Dawson and Gregor Townsend were maintained as the half-back duo by head coach Sir Ian McGeechan.

Martin Johnson led the side from the second row with Jeremy Davidson alongside him as they packed down behind a front row of Tom Smith, Keith Wood and Paul Wallace.

Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill and Tim Rodber completed the XV selected by McGeechan as the Lions went in search of a first Test series win in South Africa since 1974.

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THE BUILD-UP 

The Lions started the Tour in great form winning their first four matches in South Africa, including a 38-21 success over Western Province in match three.

A five-point defeat to Northern Transvaal failed to halt their momentum as three more wins, including a 51-22 victory over the Emerging Springboks was perfect preparation for the First Test.

And their form was on full display as Dawson and Tait got the crucial tries, backed up by the ever-reliable boot of Jenkins who knocked over five penalties from the tee.

The Lions arrived in Durban expecting a reaction from the Springboks and they didn’t disappoint as they raced out of the blocks at King’s Park on June 28.

THE MATCH 

Despite the South African onslaught, Jenkins kicked the Lions into a 6-0 lead before Joost van der Westhuizen went over for the first of three South African tries.

"You could tell that they meant business from the moment they rampaged down the stand in Durban and the crowd were baying for our blood," said Dawson.

"From the kick off, the South Africans just ran at us, bouncing people off, it was just this wave after wave of South African attack.”

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Percy Montgomery’s try had the Springboks ahead 10-6 only for Jenkins to reduce the deficit by three as the hosts paid for missing two conversions.

Andre Joubert added a third South African try but two more kicks from Jenkins meant it was 15-15 heading into the final moments.

And far from worrying about the pressure, Jenkins continued to thread the ball between the posts like it was a Sunday afternoon in the park.

"The pressure mounted with each kick but every time I took my mind away from Durban and imagined myself back on the training field in Church Village," he explained. 

"Same routine and, thankfully, same result. People always ask about pressure kicks, but that is what goal-kickers live for. You don't hope the chance never comes, you pray it does.

"The fifth and final penalty was probably the most important of my career, but I approached it as any other and managed to keep the pressure at bay."

And the Lions’ match-winner came in the form of Guscott who dropped into the pocket and knocked over the vital drop-goal which would seal a historic victory for the British & Irish Lions.

WHAT THEY SAID

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Remarkably, forward coach Jim Telfer doesn’t remember a sparkling Lions performance in the second Test but was full of praise for the character the squad showed.

"I actually thought that a lot of our players froze in that second Test and we didn't play well at all. We just hung on in there," he explained. 

"Neil – to give him his due – just kept slotting the goals. We must have been in positions to kick goals because he is not the longest kicker in the world but he is so accurate."

But for Sir Ian McGeechan, who was a Lions coach for the third time in 1997, and would be part of the 2005 and 2009 Tours savours his victory in South Africa among his very best.

"Of all my rugby moments, the sound of that final whistle in Durban in 1997 was probably the sweetest," he said.
 
28 JUNE 1997
SOUTH AFRICA (5) 15, BRITISH & IRISH LIONS (6) 18
Growth Point Kings Park

South Africa: Andre Joubert(T); Andre Snyman, Percy Montgomery(T), Danie van Schalkwyk, Pieter Rossouw; Henry Honiball, Joost van der Westhuizen(T); Os du Randt, Naka Drotske, Adrian Garvey; Hannes Strydom, Mark Andrews; Ruben Kruger, Andre Venter, Gary Teichmann (capt).
Bench: Fritz van Heerden, Dawie Theron, Russell Bennett, Boeta Wessels, Werner Swanepoel, James Dalton,
Replacements used: van Heerden for Teichmann 2, Teichmann for van Heerden 5, van Heerden for Kruger 50, Theron for Garvey 67.

British & Irish Lions: Neil Jenkins(5P); John Bentley, Jerry Guscott(D), Scott Gibbs, Alan Tait; Gregor Townsend, Matt Dawson; Tom Smith, Keith Wood, Paul Wallace; Martin Johnson (capt), Jeremy Davidson; Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Tim Rodber.
Bench: Neil Back, Austin Healey, Eric Miller, Mike Catt, Barry Williams, Jason Leonard,
Replacements used: Back for Hill 57, Healey for Tait 76, Miller for Rodber 77.

Referee: Didier Mene (France).
Attendance: 50000.

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