Hook reels in win for Lions
Tourists edge out Western Province to make it five wins from five
Last Updated: 13/06/09 6:09pm
Hook: decisive penalty
James Hook's late penalty ensured the British and Irish Lions kept their 100 percent record intact with a 26-23 victory over Western Province in soggy conditions at Newlands.
Tommy Bowe - The Irish winger scored one try and created another during a vibrant display on the wing. Competition for places out wide in the Test team is fierce, but Bowe now appears almost certain to start next Saturday.
The Welshman came off the bench to slot the decisive penalty in the 77th minute after the Lions had allowed their hosts to battle back from 18-9 down.
The Lions produced two superb tries during the first period, Tommy Bowe scoring the first before turning provider for his fellow wing Ugo Monye.
But Western Province remained in touch thanks to Willem De Waal's two penalties and a drop goal apiece from De Waal and Joe Pietersen, going in 18-12 behind at half-time.
De Waal added his third penalty shortly after the resumption to bring his side back within three points but Martyn Williams' short-range finish for the Lions' third try in the 55th minute appeared to put the men in red back in control.
Not for long however as Western Province finally found their way through the Lions' disciplined defence, full-back Pietersen entering the line to finish off an overlap in the left corner.
De Waal missed the touchline conversion to leave the scores level at 23-23 entering the final quarter-of-an-hour - and it was initially the hosts who looked the more likely victors.
But the Lions scrum, bolstered by the introduction of Euan Murray off the bench, twice held firm close to their own line under extreme pressure.
And Hook, who had entered the fray when Rob Kearney sustained a dead leg, had the chance to win it when Western Province's front-row collapsed a scrum three minutes from time.
It was tough kick, 50 metres out in a swirling wind, but the Ospreys stand-off stepped up and rifled it straight between the posts to clinch the result.
The Lions had to contend with comfortably the worst weather conditions of their 10-match trip, with a blustery wind and heavy showers blowing in from Table Mountain.
And they were also watched by their biggest crowd on tour - just over 34,000, that included an escalating contingent of travelling fans.
A lively opening saw Western Province move 3-0 ahead after four minutes when De Waal booted a penalty from just inside the Lions' half but the visitors quickly drew level when Stephen Jones found his range 40 metres out as the game continued at a frantic pace.
The Lions wanted to put pace and width on their game, and Jones kicked them ahead when his second successful penalty went over via the post.
Territorially, the Lions enjoyed a considerable advantage, and they looked to have taken the sting out of opponents who threatened little in attack.
As with the Sharks in Durban on Wednesday night, the Lions were up against dogged opponents, and a well-struck De Waal drop-goal tied it up at 6-6.
Physically, the game was proving exactly the kind of work-out the Lions needed heading into the first of three Tests against the Springboks in Durban next Saturday.
Western Province enjoyed their best spell of the game midway through the second quarter, and they regained the lead at 9-6 through a drop-goal by Pietersen.
But the Lions produced an immediate riposte, scoring the game's opening try after 28 minutes.
The Welsh back-row duo of Williams and Andy Powell made the initial headway, opening up space for the back division, who made the most of it.
Full-back Kearney found his Ireland team-mate Bowe out wide and the winger stepped inside a couple of would-be tacklers on his way to the line.
Bowe was far from finished, and he smashed through three tackles on a weaving run before floating a delightful pass to Monye, whose finish proved exemplary for the Lions' second try in the 35th minute.
Jones added the extras before De Waal's second penalty with the last kick of the half pegged back the Lions' advantage to six points at the break.
The Lions made a scrappy start to the second period, handing De Waal two penalty opportunities, the second of which he accepted, cutting the deficit to just three points.
The tourists needed to regroup, and they stepped up a gear when required. Livewire scrum-half Harry Ellis sniped away at the heels of his forwards, launching wave after wave of attacks that ended with a concerted forward rumble and a try for Williams.
Jones could not convert, and head coach Ian McGeechan then made three changes approaching the hour mark, sending on hooker Ross Ford, prop Euan Murray and lock Simon Shaw.
The Lions were three-nil ahead on tries, knowing that one more score would probably finish off the home side, but instead a De Waal penalty cut the gap to 23-18.
Western Province then drew level through a high-class score from Pietersen, who rounded off a spell of powerful work from the pack.
De Waal missed the touchline conversion, but the score set up a gripping climax with the Lions hauled back to 23-23.
Kearney limped off after being hurt in the build-up to Pietersen's try, and was replaced by Hook, whose first contribution was to come up short with a long-range penalty chance.
The Lions had to dig deep entering the last five minutes, and Hook came up trumps, landing a monster penalty to secure the win.
The tourists' final warm-up fixture before the first Test is against the Southern Kings on Tuesday.