Breakdown: Guscott’s winning moment in ’97
Jeremy Guscott’s celebrated drop goal is considered one of the iconic moments in Lions and rugby history, setting up a famous series victory and ensuring the 1997 squad’s place in the pantheon.
Breaking down the moment shows key involvements from several others, while before his iconic kick Guscott himself makes two vital interventions early in the move to put the team in position.
The sequence begins with the teams deadlocked at 15-15 and John Bentley choosing to run the ball out of defence, rugby league style. The Lions had run from deep throughout the Tour, most notably for Bentley’s superb score against the Gauteng Lions, and stuck to that principle. Shades of Liam Williams 20 years later.
This time the Englishman’s run was halted by a tackler but rather than set up a ruck with both hands free he chooses to pass. Guscott is next in line but the pass is too far in front and, vitally, he chooses not to catch, withdrawing his hand at the last moment. Alan Tait, Bentley’s fellow League star, picks up brilliantly and continues moving forward. With no space to run into he opts to drop the ball on his toe but his attempted grubber kick doesn’t quite come off and Henry Honnibal looks to have controlled the situation for the Springboks, diving on the ball and standing as his pack gathers in support.
But Guscott has tracked alongside Tait and gets to Honnibal, tackling and then crouching over the Springbok out-half.
The management team’s discussion of Back during the selection meeting captured on Living With Lions was that he would present a different challenge to the Springboks during the latter part of the game once he had replaced Richard Hill.
‘He’ll give us something totally different’ as Forwards Coach Jim Telfer put it.
This time, Back and Guscott combine to give the Lions vital ball. Back, in the middle of the ruck, just as numerous South African players appear to have secured possession, appears to make the key intervention as it suddenly pops out on the Lions side.
Keith Wood’s quick thinking and unorthodox style comes to the fore next.
Standing a few yards back, as the rest of the Lions prepare to defend as scrum-half Matt Dawson appeals to the linesman, the Munsterman spots the ball popping out on his side and pounces. Again, there is little hesitation before he does what comes instinctively, picking it up and booting down the line. Like Bentley’s runs, Wood’s excellent kicking game had made appearances throughout the Tour but never more importantly than on this occasion.
The kick is a good one, bouncing into the 22, and as Wood chases, South African outside-centre Percy Montgomery is forced to tap the ball into touch with his foot.
The Lions will have the throw-in.
A driving maul is the option and the pack makes progress forwards and towards the posts. From the sideline, the Lions bench scream for a penalty for pulling it down put none is forthcoming. The Lions will have to pass. Standing at first receiver, Gregor Townsend chooses to attack a large space that has opened between the South African pack and the first defender. Rushing onto the ball, he makes quick yards and vitally, the Lions create a quick, secure ruck with the Springboks slightly back on their heels.
With several Lions lined up to his left and elements of the backline not in position, Dawson has a choice to make. He lifts the ball slightly before firing a pass off his left hand to Guscott.
A drop goal from considerably further out in the first Test had gone astray but Guscott doesn’t appear to have any doubts about having another crack. With the Lions fly-half under the ruck and deep into the Test match, the South African defensive charge is not quite expecting the drop-goal attempt. They get close but crucially, with the rangy Honnibal first among the South African chasers, the trajectory of the ball is high and it evades his fingertips by a matter of centimetres.
The rest is history, as the Lions hang on for the final minutes to seal an epic 18-15 victory.
You can watch the superb Living With Lions sequence depicting the second Test below, including the drama described above!