Lions beat Southern Kings in bruising encounter

Southern Kings 8 British and Irish Lions 20

Southern Kings 8 British and Irish Lions 20

The British and Irish Lions won a game of brutal intensity at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium after their opponents attempted a softening-up exercise before next Saturday's first Test.

The tourists did not escape unscathed though, as prop Euan Murray and fly-half James Hook both went off injured inside the opening 15 minutes.

Murray suffered a sprained ankle, while a dazed Hook could not continue after being on the receiving end of a crunching tackle.

Centre Gordon D'Arcy and flanker Nathan Hines were also in the wars at various stages, with Port Elizabeth living up to its reputation as a battleground for visiting overseas teams.

The city staged a violence-scarred third Test between the 1974 Lions and South Africa, while England's 1994 tour game against Eastern Province saw back-row forward Tim Rodber sent off.

There was ill-feeling after the final whistle, with D'Arcy appearing to refuse to shake hands with his opposite number De Wet Barry and Ronan O'Gara and Jaco van der Westhuyzen twice engaged in a pushing match.

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan will be relieved to head to Durban tonight with his squad still relatively unscathed in terms of Test team selection.

A dozen probable Test starters had already flown north up the coast, watching from a safe distance as the Lions made it six wins from six.

The Springboks will prove infinitely tougher opponents than the Southern Kings, but the Lions are unlikely to be on the receiving end of anywhere near as many late tackles.

Welsh referee Nigel Owens sin-binned two Southern Kings players - fly-half Van der Westhuyzen and Ross Skeate, the lock for a technical offence - yet it could easily have been more.

Former Harlequins centre Barry played a role of midfield terminator, and the Lions had to generally keep their wits about them - on and off the ball.

They ultimately prevailed through wing Ugo Monye's second-half try and a later penalty try, while substitute O'Gara kicked two penalties and two conversions to topple the Kings.

The home side claimed a van der Westhuyzen penalty and a late Mpho Mbiyozo try, trailing just 6-3 early in the second period.

However, the Lions' forwards gained supremacy, and with O'Gara playing a key hand after replacing Hook, the tourists posted a deserved win.

The Southern Kings were inevitably fired up, and after they took a second-minute lead through Van der Westhuyzen's 40-metre penalty, centre Frikkie Welsh took his opposite number D'Arcy out late.

But it went unpunished by Owens, and there were more concerns for the Lions when Murray and Hook both went down hurt within seconds of each other.

Hook was initially able to continue, yet Scotland tighthead Murray limped away. It was an unsettling start for the tourists, especially with the Southern Kings in such an uncompromising mood.

A heavily sand-based pitch appeared to be taking its toll on the players of both sides, and a dazed Hook was next to go, making a 13th-minute exit as O'Gara replaced him.

Owens had to get a grip of the contest, and there were signs that he had when he yellow-carded Van der Westhuyzen for a late tackle on Lions centre Riki Flutey.

Full-back Keith Earls then sliced through the Southern Kings' defence, but he threw a wild forward pass to supporting wing Luke Fitzgerald.

O'Gara booted a 27th-minute penalty to level the score, yet the game had little pattern or fluency as errors abounded on both sides.

The Ireland fly-half then pulled off a superb try-saving tackle on wing Wylie Human after the Lions defence was initially shredded, before Van der Westhuyzen missed a relatively straightforward penalty attempt.

The Lions had to regroup during the interval, being held 3-3 and with their unbeaten tour record in grave danger of disappearing.

O'Gara nudged the Lions ahead after 44 minutes when he booted a second penalty, but the game's feisty nature continued and Owens twice issued warnings to the rival captains.

O'Gara looked the player most likely to unlock the Southern Kings defence, and he did not disappoint with a sublime piece of skill six minutes later.

He had the vision to place a crosskick behind the home side's cover, and Monye pounced for his fourth try of the tour, although it required detailed deliberation from the video referee before it was awarded.

O'Gara rifled over the touchline conversion for a 13-3 lead, suggesting the Lions could at last begin to breathe a little easier.

The Southern Kings were under scoreboard pressure for the first time, and the Lions knew one more score might do the trick.

Skeate became the second Southern Kings player to be yellow-carded, and down to 14 men, the Lions prospered.

Owens awarded them a penalty try for pulling down a scrum, and O'Gara added the extras to take them out of sight at 20-3 clear.

It sparked the Southern Kings into a late revival, and Mbiyozo crashed from close range, cutting the deficit to 12 points.

Time was not on the Southern Kings' side though, and the Lions had done enough to win comfortably their most physically-punishing encounter of the tour so far.

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