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Flashback: Springbok blitz catches the Lions on the hop in 2009

Paul O’Connell and David Wallace reflect on the lightning quick start made by South Africa in the First Test.

Paul O'Connell captained the Lions in 2009.
Paul O'Connell captained the Lions in 2009.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

THE 2009 LIONS went into the First Test against hosts South Africa on the back of six unbeaten warm-up matches. Stephen Ferris and Leigh Halfpenny had flown him with injuries but the matchday squad looked up for the challenge.

Led by Paul O’Connell, the Lions took on the world-champion Springboks at ABSA Stadium in Durban. Suspicions that the tourists may be undercooked after three weeks of one-sided rugby were confirmed as early as the fifth minute.

David Wallace told TheScore.ie, “The Springboks started the First Test at 100mph and caught us on the hop. They had this pre-planned lineout move that disrupted us and they stole the throw. It set up a perfect attacking platform for their forwards and captain John Smit crashed over.”

The Lions tried to compose themselves, with captain Paul O’Connell barking words of encouragement under the posts as Ruan Pienaar slotted over the conversion. The real trouble was about to begin as loosehead Tendai Mtawarira took a liking to Lions tighthead Phil Vickery and the tourist’s scrum, perceived to be an attacking weapon before the series, caved in. Pienaar, then Francois Steyn, slotted the resulting penalties and South Africa led 13-0 after 20 minutes. Speaking after that match, Vickery said:

When your mum, your wife and your sister text you to say they still love you, you know things haven’t gone too well.”

Wallace recalls how the Lions, through Tom Croft, battled back but another high-tempo opening, this time in the second-half, led to a Heinrich Brussow score on 46 minutes. Croft, again, and Mike Philips touched down to give the Lions late hope but the points difference was too much and the First Test was lost, 26-21.

O’Connell told TheScore.ie, “We played great rugby for two and a half games. For the opening 20, 25 minutes of the First Test – they caught us on the hop – and the final 15 minutes of the Second Test.

O’Connell added, “There was a great buzz within the team; we dug deep and produced some great rugby. The bottom line, though, is that we lost the series.”

“The Second Test was the real nugget,” says Wallace. “The squad was already blighted by injuries but that was the one we felt we should have won. Everything seemed to go against. The last game was a dead rubber but it was great to finish up with a win.”

Here are highlights of the First Test in 2009:

YouTube credit: RSArugbyrocks2

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Patrick McCarry

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