Late Steyn penalty wins series for Springboks

Replacement flyhalf Morne Steyn landed a 55m penalty in the last minute to give South Africa a 28-25 second Test victory over the British and Irish Lions on Saturday and an unassailable 2-0 series lead.

The thunderously physical match will go down as one of the greatest in the Lions’ illustrious history and the Springboks will celebrate long and hard after adding their scalps to the 2007 World Cup triumph.

The Lions deservedly led 18-9 after an hour but the world champions fought back superbly to level the match at 25-all with three minutes to go. Steyn, who helped the Bulls win the Super 14 title on the same Loftus Versfeld pitch a month ago, completed the job with the decisive kick from inside his own half.

The game got off to an explosive start when flanker Schalk Burger was sin-binned in the first minute for a gouge at the face of Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald and was lucky to escape a red card.

The incident set the tone for a ferocious match which was played at a pace and level of aggression several steps up from last week’s relatively civilised opener.

The Lions in particular were far more purposeful in everything they did in the first half and had much the better of the furiously contested breakdown.

Stephen Jones was on target with a penalty after three minutes and then delivered a lovely back-of-the-hand pass to Rob Kearney for the opening try.

The Springboks hit back with a try by JP Pietersen after a sharp pass by Fourie du Preez but it was a rare attack by the world champions.

The Lions’ scrum, with three changes from last week, was much more solid and lock Simon Shaw, the sole survivor of the 1997 tour, delivered an immense performance.

Another Jones’ penalty and a drop goal had the Lions 16-5 ahead and looking in control, though Francois Steyn reduced that with a penalty from inside his own half just before halftime.

The second half maintained the high-octane atmosphere as the tackles and off-the-ball hits continued and South Africa missed their chance to close when Ruan Pienaar sent two penalty attempts wide.

Injuries to both Lions starting props meant the introduction of uncontested scrums for the final half hour and the game turned scrappy with an influx of replacements and the relentless battering took its toll on both sides.

Jones then landed a penalty from wide to stretch the lead to 19-8 but the hosts it back when Bryan Habana exploded from the back of a scrum to score his side’s second try afer 63 minutes.

Morne Steyn converted and then landed a penalty to bring the home side within a point, only for Jones to edge it back to four.

The thin air of Pretoria appeared to take its toll on the Lions, who were flagging in the last quarter as the Springboks piled on the pressure.

It paid off six minutes from time when Jaques Fourie scrambled over in the corner and, after an age, the TV match official ruled the score fair.

Morne Steyn converted but Jones then landed a nerveless penalty from the touchline to make it 25-all with three minutes remaining.

The first drawn test in a series since 1974 looked on the cards until replacement flyhalf Ronan O’Gara was penalised for taking out du Preez in the air.

Steyn nailed the kick to give the Springboks long-awaited revenge for their 2-1 series defeat 12 years ago. The final match will be played at Ellis Park in Johannesburg next Saturday.
- Reuters

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