The British and Irish Lions maintained a 100 percent record on tour in South Africa with a 39-3 victory against the severely depleted kwaZulu-Natal Sharks on Wednesday.
Magnificent defending by a home team lacking nine regulars on Springbok duty restricted the winners to a 7-3 half-time advantage, but the touring team cut loose in the second half to romp home in their fourth tour match.
Next up are Western Province in Cape Town tomorrow and one week later a three-Test series against world champions South Africa begins in this Indian Ocean city.
“It was a very tough challenge and pressure paid off as we racked up a good score. It was also brilliant that we defended so well and conceded just three points,” Lions skipper and lock Paul O’Connell said.
Man of the match and Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips was equally thrilled: “This was a massive effort by the boys. As a number nine it is great to play behind our pack. Our win was created up front.”
The freezing weather that has enveloped much of South Africa was mercifully missing as the Lions defended a 99-year, 10-match unbeaten record against the Sharks.
And the visitors quickly established territorial supremacy with the home team camped inside their “22” for long periods and heroically holding out when tries seemed inevitable.
Lions No. 8 Jamie Heaslip did cross the line only to be held up and it took 23 minutes before they finally broke the deadlock through hooker Lee Mears after good work from scrum-half Mike Phillips and Heaslip.
Fly-half Ronan O’Gara converted to give his side a seven-point advantage that lasted six minutes before scrum-half Rory Kockott succeeded with his first penalty attempt.
There was a lively start to the second half with Phillips — considered a likely first Test starter — crossing the line on 42 minutes to drop a hint of things to come.
The big Welshman picked up the ball on the ‘22’ and evaded numerous tackles to go over in the corner for a try O’Gara failed to convert with his effort drifting wide of the left post.
Kockott was unlucky with his second shot at goal, a long-range penalty attempt that was accurate but fell just under the crossbar, and the Lions went further ahead soon after via a simple O’Gara penalty.
Sharks flanker Jacques Botes was warned by referee Jonathan Kaplan for constantly infringing and O’Gara slotted the resultant penalty from close range to give the Lions an 18-3 lead.
The home team were fading fast as the first-half heroics took their toll and wing Luke Fitzgerald scored his first try of this tour after Brian O’Driscoll drew two Sharks and passed to his unmarked Ireland teammate.
O’Gara converted from the touchline, the lead stretched to 22 points, and the Lions were as good as home with almost a quarter of the match still to go at ABSA Stadium.
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